Gingrich win could throw Republican presidential race into chaos

CHARLESTON, SC - (RNN) - Just when you thought the race for a Republican presidential nominee was over, buckle your seatbelts. It might only just be getting interesting.

Just a few days ago, Saturday's "First in the South" primary in South Carolina looked like Mitt Romney's opportunity to outright claim the nomination and the last chance for Republicans not sold on him as their candidate to get traction toward a different nominee.

Enter Newt Gingrich, who might be peaking at just the right time.

Various polls show the once-fledgling Gingrich rallying from a 19-point deficit to Romney in early January to the outright lead in South Carolina this week.

The final Rasmussen Report poll before the primary, released Thursday, shows Gingrich polling at 33 percent support from likely voters to Romney's 31 percent.

On Thursday, the former Speaker of the House also picked up the endorsement of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who abandoned his own presidential campaign after seeing "no viable path" to the White House.

At a campaign rally in Orangeburg on Friday, Gingrich continued to beat the drum on his conservative credentials, which many of the GOP base say Romney lacks.

"We are going to take the first big step to ensure that a conservative is nominated for president of the United States," he said.

Romney instead focused more on defeating President Barack Obama in November than on taking aim at his fellow Republican competition on Friday.

"This president is taking America in a very different place. I think he takes his inspiration from the capitols of Europe. I take my inspiration from the people of this land," he told supporters in Charleston. "Europe isn't working in Europe. It sure isn't going to work here."

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who turned 40 on Friday, joined the former Mass. governor to rally the crowd.

"All I want is a 'President Romney' for my birthday. We've got to get him in the White House," she said.

South Carolina is the second primary in the nation and the third contest in the nomination process.

Initially declared a win for Romney, a recount showed former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum actually won the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. However, Romney cruised to an easy win in the New Hampshire primary a week later.

Since 1980, whoever has won South Carolina has gone on to be the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

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