“This race is getting to be even more interesting,” Mitt Romney just told his cheering, but disappointed, fans in South Carolina.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The former Massachusetts governor lost South Carolina’s primary to Newt Gingrich, his first major loss since Republicans began making their choices in the Iowa Caucuses on Jan. 3. Romney, at first, was believed to have narrowly won that contest, clobbered his rivals in New Hampshire and now appears to be losing South Carolina to Gingrich by a big margin. (Check out our live results map here.)
Gingrich won just about every demographic — Tea Party voters, those who consider themselves somewhat or very conservative and voters who said the most important quality a candidate should have is the ability to beat President Obama. The former speaker did the best with voters who made up their minds in the last month and those who said the debates were an important factor in their choice.
Romney won voters with income of $200,000 or more, exit polls showed. (View them all here.)
But Romney seemed in decent spirits as his supporters chanted, “We need Mitt!”
He said competition “is making our campaign stronger” and congratulated Gingrich.
“We are now three contests into a long primary season. This is a hard fight because there is so much worth fighting for. We’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of work to do,” Romney said.
He offered some pointed criticism directed at Gingrich without mentioning him, saying, “Our party cannot be led to victory by someone who also has never led a business and never run a state.” He said President Obama and the left have attacked capitalism, and complained about the candidate “who has joined in that very assault on free enterprise.”
“The Republican Party doesn’t demonize prosperity,” Romney said.
In another jab at Gingrich, Romney promised, “I will compete in every single state.” He and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, projected to come in fourth place in South Carolina, are the only candidates who will appear on the Virginia primary ballot.
For his part, Gingrich used his Twitter feed to try to raise cash ahead of Florida’s Jan. 31 primary. He tweeted:
Thank you South Carolina! Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida. Join our Moneybomb and donate now. bit.ly/wFVY4G
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) January 22, 2012
Rick Santorum appeared on CNN and said of Gingrich: “He kicked butt.” The former Pennsylvania senator said he expects a “long race.”