By Arun Kumar
Washington, Jan 22 (IANS) In a stunning turnaround, former House speaker Newt Gingrich won a crucial Republican party primary in South Carolina, which has an Indian American governor Nikki Haley, in the race to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in the November presidential poll.
Gingrich emerged the winner with 40 per cent of the vote in Saturday's South Carolina Republican presidential primary as against 27 per cent by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who was endorsed by Nikki Haley.
Former US Senator Rick Santorum with 17 per cent was third while US Representative Ron Paul of Texas finished fourth with 13 per cent.
The South Carolina win puts Gingrich, who finished fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire and whose campaign had been left for dead by observers just weeks ago, at the front of the Republican pack as the winner of the South Carolina primary has gone on to win the Republican nomination in every election since 1980.
But the race is far from over as this is also the first time since 1980 that three different Republican candidates have won nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Gingrich's South Carolina turnaround is just his latest. He came out of nowhere to top national polls in late fall on the strength of debate performances, but dropped again ahead of the Iowa caucuses as opponents hammered him in Iowa ads.
Less than a week ago, Romney, the New Hampshire winner, was looking at a double-digit lead in most polls of likely voters in South Carolina, a big lead in Florida and the possibility of a clear path to the Republican nomination.
Things reversed quickly for Romney in South Carolina this week. As late as Tuesday, Romney had a double-digit lead in most polls of likely voters in the state's primary.
Then what had been declared an eight-vote Romney victory in Iowa's Jan 3 caucuses was reversed into a 34-vote win for Santorum when the state party certified its results Thursday.
Later that day, Texas Governor Rick Perry suspended his campaign and threw his support to Gingrich.
Santorum spent the week trying to bring down Gingrich in what most see as a race between the moderate Romney against conservatives Gingrich or Santorum.