According to the exit polls, Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina was as broad and deep as Mitt Romney’s in New Hampshire. Gingrich won Catholics and Protestants, veterans and non-veterans, married and un-married, Republican and independent, very conservative and somewhat conservative. At this writing, Fox News is still projecting that Gingrich could win every county in the state. He carried every age group except voters aged 18 to 29, who went for Ron Paul.
The big accomplishment here is that Gingrich succeeded in his attacks on both Romney’s conservatism and his electability. Gingrich trounced Romney 37 percent to 2 percent among voters who wanted a “true conservative.” But Gingrich won an eye-popping 51 percent of those who said their main goal was beating Barack Obama, who at 45 percent were a much bigger slice of the Republican electorate. Romney came in second among that group with 34 percent.
Gingrich was able to hold together a large plurality of conservative voting blocs even with Rick Santorum pulling nearly 18 percent of the vote. If he consolidates conservatives further, he could emerge as a threat to Romney in Florida, where the former House speaker led not too long ago.
One addendum: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley wasn’t a factor in this race. Even though Haley endorsed Romney, Gingrich actually did a little better with those who approved of her performance as governor (42 percent) than those who disapproved (38 percent). This was helpful to Newt, because Haley had a 66 percent approval rating among those who turned out to vote.