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Gingrich Wins Big In South Carolina


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

The Republican presidential nominating contest is now in full swing - emphasis on swing. Three states have voted, each anointing a different winner. Yesterday, South Carolinians had their say, and they picked Newt Gingrich. Mitt Romney was a distant second, with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul third and fourth.

We have reports from all four campaigns, starting with NPR's Tamara Keith at Gingrich headquarters last night.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This was quite possibly Newt Gingrich's biggest night since 1994, when he oversaw the Republican revolution. He has proudly run a campaign that breaks all the rules - or at least, most of them, skipping the high-priced political consultants and doing things his own way. And so, on his night in the spotlight, Gingrich didn't follow the script.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Ladies and gentlemen, it's my pleasure to introduce to you the next president of the United States and the most wonderful first lady, Newt and Callista Gingrich.


KEITH: The audience cheered. The music blared. Gingrich wasn't in the room. Nineteen and a half minutes later, he finally stepped up to the mic.


NEWT GINGRICH: 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.


KEITH: Ten days ago, few would've predicted this victory. But that was before a pair of debate performances where Gingrich shined - putting then-front-runner Mitt Romney on the defensive, and lashing out at what Gingrich calls the elite media. It worked. But last night, Gingrich insisted his success was about something more.


GINGRICH: It's not that I am a good debater. It is that I articulate the deepest-felt values of the American people.


KEITH: For Gingrich supporters, this was the moment they had been waiting for. Susan Smith lives in Newberry, South Carolina.

SUSAN SMITH: We believed from the very beginning that he could do this. This whole evening is wonderful to us.

KEITH: The question for Gingrich is whether he can keep the momentum going through what now appears will be a drawn-out primary process. Before he even took the stage, Gingrich's campaign sent out an e-mail blast asking for donations. More than once in his victory speech, Gingrich asked those in the room to call everyone they know in Florida, the site of the next primary - a week from Tuesday.


GINGRICH: We don't have the kind of money that at least one of the candidates has.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We'll get it.

GINGRICH: But we do have ideas, and we do have people. And we proved here in South Carolina that people power, with the right ideas, beats big money. And with your help...


GINGRICH: …we're going to prove it again in Florida. Thank you...

KEITH: But Bill Connelly, a professor of politics at Washington and Lee University, says there are real questions about Newt Gingrich's staying power.

BILL CONNELLY: If he wants to be in it for the long haul, he cannot run his campaign out of his back pocket.

KEITH: And that means...

CONNELLY: He's going to need staff. He's going to need consultants for that purpose.

KEITH: All the trappings of a traditional campaign - something Gingrich has resisted; something he says he doesn't need. Connelly says Gingrich can't win the nomination without them.

CONNELLY: He's going to have to learn to work with staff, and be part of a larger team. And that's going to require some self-government on Newt's part. Does he have the self-discipline?

KEITH: Does this campaign have legs? A lot of political watchers and consultants aren't convinced. Tony Shipley says they're wrong. He's a state representative in Tennessee, and director of the Gingrich campaign there. Tennessee votes on March 6th, Super Tuesday.

STATE REP. TONY SHIPLEY: Newt Gingrich is delivering a message that's important for Americans to hear. And I don't care what anybody says, he's got legs. And if they don't believe it, you just wait till Super Tuesday comes round, and you're going to see legs.

KEITH: But first comes Florida. And as we learned in South Carolina, a lot can change in a matter of days.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Columbia, South Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.