Gingrich eyes upset in key primary vote
Greenville - South Carolina voters cast their ballots in a pivotal Republican presidential primary on Saturday, as surging Newt Gingrich eyed an upset win that could turn the race upside down.
If the former House speaker defeats long-time frontrunner Mitt Romney, it could rekindle doubts about whether the more moderate former Massachusetts governor and multi-millionaire investor, champion of the party's establishment, can rally the conservative core, where he is viewed with suspicion.
And the winner of the first nominating contest in the US South will find the wind in his sails ahead of the January 31 primary in the vote-rich battleground of Florida.
The neck-and-neck rivals criss-crossed South Carolina ahead of the primary, mindful that no Republican since 1980 has captured the party's nomination without first winning this southern bastion.
A victory here would be Gingrich's first triumph after Christian conservative former senator Rick Santorum squeaked out a victory in Iowa and Romney romped in New Hampshire.
"Tomorrow's going to be a very, very important day," Gingrich said at a packed campaign rally on Friday in Orangeburg, adding that he aimed to "win a shockingly big victory".
But Romney hoped a better-organised and richer campaign organisation would ultimately carry him to victory and put him on course to take on President Barack Obama in the November 6 elections.
"I think I said from the very beginning: South Carolina is an uphill battle (for) a guy from Massachusetts. I knew that. We're battling hard," he told reporters.