Newt Gingrich’s up and down day in South Carolina Primary

Newt Gingrich and his current wife, Callista. Image from Reuters.

Today was a bizarre roller coaster ride for Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and his campaign. It started with good news for him, but bad news started to emerge during the day and it ended with a debate where he criticized the media and scuffled with rival Rick Santorum.

Gingrich started the day in second place in South Carolina Tuesday according to polls conducted by NBC News and Marist, trailing Mitt Romney by 10 points. But the really good news for him was when Rick Perry dropped out of the race this morning, and threw his support behind Gingrich. CNN reports Perry said, “I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country. We’ve had our differences, which campaigns will inevitably have, and Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?”

Just look at that face. Image from Reuters.

Perry had planned his campaign around a strong showing in southern states, skipping campaigning in New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina. When poll data showed him with only 6% support, he concluded “there is no viable path for me in this 2012 campaign.”

This boost to Gingrich, though, was followed in the afternoon by an announcement from ABC that would monkey with his campaign in the final stretch. Gingrich’s ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, agreed to be interviewed for Nightline. In the interview, she claimed before their divorce he approached her and asked for an “open marriage” so he could continue to carry on his six-year affair with Callista Bisek (Gingrich’s current wife). She also accused Gingrich of hypocritically carrying on this affair while publicly speaking about family values and investigating Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky; she further claimed Newt Gingrich divorced her shortly after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

During the CNN debate tonight, Gingrich responded angrily when host John King asked him about his ex-wife’s accusations. He said, “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run of for public office and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that… To take an ex-wife, and make it two days before the primary a sign question in a presidential campaign, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

For the rest of the debate, Gingrich spent most of his energy in a tussle with Rick Santorum, who was virtually tied with Mitt Romney in Iowa and is believed to be popular among evangelical Christian voters. According to CNN, Santorum said, “Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. And that’s really one of the issues here, folks, I don’t want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and … [worry] about what he’s going to say next.”

In response, Gingrich countered, “You’re right, I think grandiose thoughts. This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things, and we need leadership prepared to take on big projects.”

The four remaining candidates swear the Pledge of Allegiance before the debate. Image from Getty Images.

The final vote in South Carolina is scheduled for Saturday, making today’s roller-coaster ride for Gingrich especially challenging as it comes only two days before polls open.

Though the field of candidates who are actually running has narrowed to four, the South Carolina ballots have been locked for some time. Still appearing on the ballot are Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, and, yes, Rick Perry. It is unclear how much confusion this could cause during the final vote Saturday, but comedian Stephen Colbert is encouraging his fans to vote for Herman Cain as a spoiler.

Speaking of Stephen Colbert, a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling regarding the perceived “favorability” of candidates gave the comedian a 36% approval rating, above every single Republican contender. Mitt Romney was the highest-scoring Republican with a 35% approval rating, while Gingrich sat at the bottom with only a 26% approval rating. President Obama received a 47% approval rating.

Information primarily from CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal.