Media outlets projected Gingrich would win the primary immediately upon close of the polls at 7 pm.
In his speech following the results, Santorum said his campaign was about importance of families, marriage and “mothers and fathers.” The candidate has been vocal about his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Earlier this week, Romney was polling ahead of other Republicans in the Palmetto State by double-digits and observers predicted he’d win the primary. But polls on Friday began showing Gingrich was ahead, leading to the win for the candidate.
Chris Barron, chief strategist for the gay conservative group GOProud, congratulated Gingrich and attributed his win to the candidate steering clear of negative attacks on Romney’s business career.
“It is clear that Speaker Gingrich’s poll numbers improved dramatically once he ended his unnecessary and unproductive attacks on Governor Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital,” Barron said. “As conservatives we should make it clear that we are the champions of free enterprise.”
Gingrich won the primary after Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race Thursday and threw his support behind the former U.S. House speaker. Perry was only polling in the single digits in South Carolina, but the shifted support from Perry to Gingrich likely contributed to the outcome of the contest.
The Gingrich win is likely troubling for Romney, who earlier this week was seen as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. That mantle was taken from him after a recount of the Iowa caucus revealed this week that Santorum had actually won there by 34 votes.
Still, Gingrich faces obstacles to clamping down the Republican nomination, including his admitted marital infidelities.
Earlier this week, Marianne Gingrich, the candidate’s second wife, said during an ABC News interview Gingrich wanted an open relationship during the marriage. The candidate later divorced her and married his current and third wife, Callista Gingrich, with whom he was having affair while in his second marriage.
Additionally, although Gingrich has been seen as an alternative to the more moderate Romney, socially conservative, evangelical leaders threw their support behind Santorum during a meeting in Texas last week.
Romney also continues to lead in the national polls. A Gallup poll published Friday gave him a 10-point lead over Gingrich. However, the lead Romney enjoys has been diminished from the standing he enjoyed earlier this week, when he had a 23-point lead over both Gingrich and Santorum.