JUDY WOODRUFF: The man trailing the Republican presidential field called it quits today, as a key weekend contest loomed. Instead, Rick Perry threw his support to Newt Gingrich, even as Gingrich confronted revelations from his past.
With polls showing him in single digits, Texas Gov. Perry decided not to wait for the official results of the South Carolina primary this Saturday.
GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas: I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign. Therefore, today, I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich for president of the United States.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Perry’s endorsement of Gingrich came as the former House speaker has narrowed the gap with front-runner Mitt Romney in the latest South Carolina polls.
An NBC News/Marist survey found Romney at 34 percent, followed by Gingrich at 24 percent. But the margin between the two was only five points among those polled after Monday night’s debate. Campaigning in Beaufort, S.C., this afternoon, Gingrich touted his chances.
NEWT GINGRICH (R): If we look at today’s polls, I am the only person who can beat Romney.
NEWT GINGRICH: I think it’s very important that we not nominate a moderate, because how are you going to take Romneycare and Obamacare and have a debate?
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Gingrich also faced new allegations from his second wife, Marianne, whom he divorced in 2000. She spoke to Brian Ross of ABC News about learning Gingrich was having an affair with a congressional staffer he later married, Callista Bisek.
MARIANNE GINGRICH, former wife of Newt Gingrich: I said to him, “Newt, we’ve been married a long time.”
And he said, “Yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn’t care what I do.”
BRIAN ROSS, ABC News: What was he saying to you, you think?
MARIANNE GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage. And I refused.
BRIAN ROSS: He wanted an open marriage?
MARIANNE GINGRICH: Yes, that I accept the fact that he — he has somebody else in his life.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The full exclusive interview was scheduled to air tonight on ABC’s “Nightline.”
Gingrich played down the issue in his appearances today. And Gov. Perry alluded to Gingrich’s past personal troubles as he issued his endorsement.
GOV. RICK PERRY: Newt is not perfect, but who among us is? The fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God, and I believe in the power of redemption, for it is a central tenet of my Christian faith.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the meantime, the front-runner in the race, Mitt Romney, had new troubles of his own, as he met voters and made phone calls in Charleston.
ABC News and others reported he has up to $8 million invested in at least a dozen funds in the Cayman Islands, a well-known offshore tax shelter. Romney has also taken flak from his rivals for paying just 15 percent of his income in taxes last year and refusing to release his returns before April.
Moreover, his apparent victory in the Iowa caucuses turned out to be short-lived. A final tally released today showed Rick Santorum leading Romney by 34 votes. Romney had been declared the winner two weeks ago, when the initial count gave him an eight-vote margin.
Today, the Iowa Republican Party declared Santorum the winner of the votes they could certify, but added that the results from eight of the state’s nearly 1,800 precincts are inexplicably missing. Santorum claimed his delayed victory at an afternoon rally in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
RICK SANTORUM (R): It says that we can win elections, we can organize, we can put together an effort to pull the resources together to be able to be successful in being the person that can defeat Mitt Romney, because, guess what, we defeated Mitt Romney in Iowa.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: Texas Congressman Ron Paul returned to campaigning today. He held a morning rally at the College of Charleston.
The four remaining Republican contenders will meet tonight in Charleston for a debate on CNN, their final before Saturday’s primary.