Update: Fox reports that Gingrich beat Romney by double digits with evangelicals and women.
Fox News: Newt Gingrich Overwhelmingly Wins SC Primary
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich overcame Mitt Romney’s so-called wave of inevitability on Saturday and surged to victory in South Carolina’s all-important first-in-the-South primary for the GOP presidential nomination.
Fox News projected Gingrich the winner as the polls were closing at 7 p.m. EST.
Gingrich capitalized on unprecedented back-to-back standing-ovations in two debate performances earlier this week to fuel his late surge.
He converted that momentum into a big win for his campaign in the Palmetto State, which has been a bellwether of the Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1980.
7:01 p.m.: Fox News projects Newt Gingrich wins South Carolina primary.
7:00 p.m.: CNN exit polls showing Gingrich in lead with 38 percent to Romney's 29 percent.
6:35 p.m.: COLUMBIA, S.C.—A win for Newt Gingrich in South Carolina on Saturday is unlikely to settle the debate among social conservatives about which candidate to rally behind for the Republican presidential nomination, conservative leaders say.
"This is far from being settled," Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said Saturday, before polls in South Carolina closed. "The path to the nomination just got a lot longer out of South Carolina."
Chip Felkel, a South Carolina Republican strategist. "A Gingrich win tonight means three different people have won the primaries,'' he said, referring to the opening contests of the nomination process in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. "And it settles nothing."
6:32 p.m.: From NPR: Just how many political lives does Newt Gingrich have? It looks like South Carolina voters are about to give him one more.
Late polls indicate that the former House speaker could win the state's Republican presidential primary Saturday. Precincts will close at 7 pm ET.
"Gingrich may very well have a pretty big win tonight," says Chip Felkel, a longtime Republican strategist in South Carolina who is not aligned with any candidate.
"One of the things the South Carolina contest has done is produce some unification of the anti-Romney conservatives," says Jim Guth, a political scientist at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.
6:27 p.m. From ABC News: COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV)-- The man who slowed down Mitt Romney's momentum is the man who tops the polls Saturday as the last votes trickle in.
The downtown Hilton in Columbia has turned into the Headquarters for Newt Gingrich and that's where the watch party is for the former house speaker
6:17 p.m.: Preliminary exit polls find a South Carolina electorate that leans more conservative than New Hampshire and mostly made up its mind at the last minute.
BROADLY CONSERVATIVE: About 7 in 10 voters in South Carolina said they tilt conservative on most political matters, according to early exit polls. That outweighs the share saying so in New Hampshire but is a bit less than in Iowa. In 2008, a similar 69 percent of South Carolina Republican primary voters were conservative.
LATE DECIDERS: A majority of voters in the first-in-the-South contest said they decided on a candidate in the last few days. In 2008, just 34 percent of voters said they made up their mind in the final three days.
RELIGIOUS VOTERS: More than 6 in 10 voters in South Carolina said they are born again or evangelical Christians, and about one-quarter said it was deeply important that a candidate share their religious views.
SEEKING A WINNER: Almost half of voters said the most important trait they sought in a candidate was ability to beat the President Barack Obama in November. Fewer said they prioritized a candidate's experience, conservative credentials or moral character.
FACING ECONOMIC CHALLENGES: Almost 8 in 10 voters said they were very worried about the future of the nation's economy, and about a third said someone in their household had lost a job since the start of Obama's term.
Preliminary results are from an exit poll conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left their polling places at 35 randomly selected sites in South Carolina. The survey involved interviews with 1,577 Republican primary voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Early results of exit polls in South Carolina show that for most voters, the economy was the top issue when picking a Republican presidential candidate.
Around a third of them said Saturday that someone in their household has been laid off in the last three years.
The preliminary data also show that when it comes to the qualities of their candidate, nearly half want someone who can defeat President Barack Obama in this fall's elections.
The conservative viewpoint of many of the state's GOP voters was also clear. Solid majorities consider themselves conservative and around the same number support the tea party. And well more than half say they are born again or evangelical Christians.
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