Former Speaker Newt Gingrich easily carried South Carolina's crucial Republican presidential primary on Saturday, coming from behind to defeat Mitt Romney after losing badly in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Gingrich was ahead of the former Massachusetts governor 40 percent to 27 percent with 95 percent of precincts reporting. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) took third with 17 percent, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul trailing the field with 13 percent. The GOP nominating contest now heads to Florida, where Republicans are set to vote on Jan. 31, although absentee and early voting is well underway.
"It is very humbling and very sobering to have so many people who so deeply want their country to get back on the right track," Gingrich said during his victory speech.
Romney, in his concession speech, took aim ó as usual ó at President Barack Obama. But in a new twist, he singled out Gingrich for stinging criticism. Though not mentioning him by name, it was clearly implied, and signaled that the governor intends to make Gingrich the focal point of his attacks as he seeks to recover lost momentum in Florida.
"President Obama has no experience running a business and no experience running a state," Romney said. "Our party can't be led to victory by somebody who also has never run a business and never run a state."
Gingrich's victory means that the first three states of the 2012 race have been split three ways, with Santorum narrowly winning Iowa and Romney taking New Hampshire by a wide margin.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Nevada caucused on Saturday to officially nominate Obama for re-election.