Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, has convincingly beaten Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary, intensifying the Republican fight for presidential nomination.
With 100 percent of votes counted, Gingrich gained 40.4 percent, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney getting 27.9 percent and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum receiving 17 percent. Congressman Ron Paul of Texas trailed behind with just 13 percent.
The South Carolina primary is seen as crucial for Republicans as its victor has won the presidential nomination in each election since 1980.
Less than a week ago, Romney, the New Hampshire winner, was expected to capture a double-digit lead in South Carolina, as most polls suggested. But Gingrich delivered two strong debate performances in the state ahead of the primary, which helped him score a convincing victor over Romney.
In his victory speech to supporters, Gingrich thanked everyone in South Carolina who came up in his support.
"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 - so many people who are so concerned about jobs, about medical costs, about the everyday parts of life, and who feel that the elites in Washington and New York have no understanding, no care, no concern, no reliability, and in fact do not represent them at all," Gingrich said.