Gingrich in surprise win against Romney in South Carolina
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The race to become the Republican candidate in the 6 November US presidential election took another dramatic turn on Saturday after Newt Gingrich beat rival and longtime frontrunner Mitt Romney in South Carolina's primary.
With all the votes counted, Gingrich captured 40.4 per cent, compared to 27.9 per cent for Romney.
The result is a severe blow to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who was seen as the man to beat in a race that now moves to Florida for its primary on 31 January.
After the vote, Romney, often accused by conservatives of being too much like President Barack Obama, immediately set about escalating his attacks on Gingrich, attempting to convince voters that that accusation stuck better to the former House speaker.
Romney said Gingrich's attacks on his business record were a "frontal assault on free enterprise" and its supporters, telling the crowd "he's attacking you" and warning such a candidate was "not going to be fit to be our nominee."
Unperturbed, Gingrich told cheering supporters that he needed their help to build on the South Carolina victory.
"I don't shrink from competition. I embrace it. I believe competition makes us all better. I know it's making our campaign stronger," said the multi-millionaire investor, who is leading in the Florida opinion polls.
South Carolina marked Gingrich's first triumph after Christian conservative former senator Rick Santorum claimed victory in Iowa and Romney romped home in New Hampshire.
A battle for third place in South Carolina, saw Santorum with 17 per cent and libertarian congressman Ron Paul on 13 per cent.