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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

South Carolina Primary Coverage; Rick Santorum Interview

Aired January 21, 2012 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We are not able to project a winner in South Carolina, but we can share with you, now that the polls in South Carolina are closed, the exit poll results. Let's put those up right now.

Take a look at this. Exit polls show that Newt Gingrich is on top with 38 percent. Mitt Romney 29 percent, Rick Santorum, 17 percent, 15 percent going to Ron Paul. These are the exit poll results. We asked individuals as they were leaving the polling stations across the state of South Carolina who they voted for and these were the results we got, strategically located. Experts, they were. These are -- this is probably -- this is no doubt the most reliable poll so far.

But take a look at this: Newt Gingrich, 38 percent; 29 percent for Mitt Romney.

Let's go over to Newt Gingrich headquarters. Jim Acosta is standing by.

These exit poll numbers, Jim, must be very, very encouraging for the Newt Gingrich folks, even though we haven't projected a winner yet.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, keep in mind where Newt Gingrich was just a week ago, Wolf, when Mitt Romney was being talked about as the inevitable nominee for the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich just finished in a disappointing finish in New Hampshire. He come off sort of a tough night there in New Hampshire, came in here in South Carolina, behind by double digits and then he turned in those two performances at the debates.

Every Republican voter I've talked to down here in South Carolina, Wolf, has said it's those debates that really turned things for Newt Gingrich. Things are starting to get animated in this crowd here behind me. Trying to figure out exactly what is happening here. It just looks like some Gingrich supporters are starting to get excited in the room. My sense is, Wolf, is that they're going to get really excited not too long from now, Wolf.

BLITZER: They're going to be presumably very excited. Once again, he's winning according to the exit polls, but we want to make sure, we want to make sure that those exit polls are accurate. So we're not yet ready to project a winner. But it looks like a very, very good night for Newt Gingrich.

Anderson, looks like Newt Gingrich comes back at least twice from the political dead. ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is extraordinary when you think about it. I mean, this guy was written off, I mean, as Paul said, twice. This doesn't happen.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I'm not going to, I may have nice things to say about Newt Gingrich, but let me say this, he's kind of a friend of mine. This is an awesome political achievement. I mean, this guy comes in, does poorly in Iowa, does poorly in New Hampshire, is way behind, has two debates, wins the thing. It looks like by more than a little bit, if that holds up, you just as a political professional, you have to say there was some gumption here. There's some achievement here tonight.

I don't think there's any chance of him being the nominee, unfortunately, but let me for one minute salute Newt Gingrich in a magnificent political achievement by pulling this off tonight.

COOPER: Somebody save that tape.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: It's something to say, but I think --

COOPER: I mean, his whole staff left when he took that bruise with his wife, how did he do it?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, the history of Newt is he has spectacular rises and achievements, match by spectacular falls. But Newt has a history of successfully rewriting the rules. Nobody thought Republicans could take the House of Representatives in the '90s but Newt, and Newt let it and he made it happen. Nobody thought Newt could come back after staff left in the summer. Newt by symbol of personal determination stayed in.

I have a lot of criticism that I see in Newt. But James is right, this is a night that if he holds on to win, you've got to give him his props and his credit for what he's done.

COOPER: How much does the margin matter?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If Newt wins this by double digits, then I think it's a serious blow, and Romney -- there are going to be phone calls going out to Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal tonight, wondering if anybody else wants to buy a ticket on the train to the GOP nomination here.

But if this is a manageable loss, in single digits, then you have a horse race in Florida. You know, Gingrich runs well from behind. Then people start envisioning him actually on the throne, if he becomes the front-runner, and he doesn't sell as well there. He's a good, you know, the comeback kid.

COOPER: Is it possible for Jeb Bush to enter this race?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The Republicans are a little, you know, I don't know, they're a little different than the Democratic rules.

CASTELLANOS: We have some.

BRAZILE: No, but we have rules that we follow. But let me just say, I don't think he can get back in the race unless there's a brokered convention and they can, you know, perhaps give Jeb Bush and some other, Sarah Palin, some other candidate.

But one thing about Newt Gingrich that people should know, he is tough, he is tenacious. But this was also about location. South Carolina, the electoral landscape, this was tailor made for a candidate like Newt Gingrich.

CARVILLE: Mitt Romney will have more riding in Florida than maybe any candidate has had in any primary. If he loses Florida, the heat on him, I'm telling you, to get out is going to be enormous. He will be that weakened. He's got a lot -- he has to win Florida.

COOPER: Let's go to Wolf and John King -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

John, it was eight or 10 days ago, Mitt Romney was crushing them in the polls. And all of a sudden, you see our exit poll results, the opposite is going on.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Remember the breadth of the Romney victory in New Hampshire. He was winning across the party.

Let's look tonight as we wait to see who wins in South Carolina. Voters who support the Tea Party, we know 2/3 of the electorate in South Carolina tonight supported the Tea Party. Gingrich, 43 percent. Look at that, look at that, 43 percent. Romney getting just 26 percent. Senator Santorum, a little disappointed with that. Ron Paul getting about 13 percent.

But Newt Gingrich getting, by far, the biggest slice of the Tea Party pie. Two-thirds of the voters support the Tea Party. That tells you, Gingrich is having a good night.

We also know 2/3 roughly, 64 percent of the voters, say they were born again evangelical Christians. Again, a very conservative electorate. Look at that again -- almost exactly the same as the Tea Party. A big slice of the pie, that's Newt Gingrich. Governor Romney coming in well behind among born again evangelical voters.

This would have been Senator Santorum's base. If he were to surprise us in the last week, he needed evangelical voters. That will be a disappointment for the Santorum campaign. Again, a decent slice, 14 percent for Ron Paul, but that is a boon.

That's the biggest piece of the electorate, especially in the populated areas, up by Greensboro, Spartanburg, Newt Gingrich among evangelical voters.

Top issue in the state was the economy. We know that. Again, this is suppose to be Governor Romney's strength, right? He says he is the businessman. He understands the economy better than any of these candidates. Gingrich wins among voters who say the economy is the number one issue in the election. Governor Romney just slightly behind there, but that is a big disappointment for the Romney campaign. That's supposed to be their strength. Again, Senator Santorum trailing there, and Ron Paul running significantly behind the leaders, about tie with Rick Santorum on the economy.

Wolf, I want to show you one other thing, this is a big change in the psychology of Republican voters. Donna, James and other analysts are right -- this is a very conservative electorate in South Carolina, more conservative than Iowa, more conservative than New Hampshire. But in Iowa and New Hampshire, Republicans think Mitt Romney is your strongest candidate against President Obama.

Look at this tonight -- Southern conservatives, the first time they had spoken, 48 percent, nearly half of the voters today, say Newt Gingrich is a stronger candidate against President Obama -- a nine- point lead over Governor Romney at 39 percent. If that carries over to the state of Florida, that's a potential trap door under the Romney camp.

BLITZER: The whole electability issue that he's best suited to beat President Obama at least among these Southern conservatives in South Carolina, the clear answer right now is Newt Gingrich.

KING: Florida is bigger. Florida is more diverse. But remember the influx of the Tea Party in both the Senate race that brought Marco Rubio to Washington. The governor's race, Rick Scott is now the governor. You had a conservative primary electorate in Florida in 2010.

Governor Romney has to be hoping it goes back to a more traditional, more diverse Florida primary electorate in 2012, because given the Tea Party support, evangelical support, it's not al through Florida, but up in the panhandle, there are -- if this holds here, if Republicans now think Gingrich, and this would be the debate impact, if they think Gingrich is a stronger candidate against President Obama, that has been the underpinning of the Romney candidacy from day one.

BLITZER: Yes, when I was in South Carolina this week, I'm sure like you, a lot of folks said to me, I want to see Newt Gingrich debate President Obama, I'm looking forward to that.

All right. The exit polls show that Newt Gingrich will win in South Carolina. We have not projected that, that's because no official ballots -- no official ballots have yet been counted. The exit polls show he's ahead, but we're going to wait, we're going to see some of the official ballots. We're going to see the numbers coming in from the state, the official numbers. And then presumably, we'll be able to make a projection.

But we're being cautious. We want to make sure that we are right.

Anderson, a lot more important to be right than first, if you will. COOPER: Wolf, it's fascinating to see the amount that Governor Romney has put into trying to raise about baggage that Newt Gingrich has. But to see how he did among evangelical, among born-again Christians, among women even in the state, and conservatives, Tea Party.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Even Tea Partiers, yes. I think what's so interesting about Romney versus Gingrich is that it's asymmetrical warfare. Romney doesn't attack directly. His surrogates, his ads do the attacking.

Newt Gingrich doesn't have a lot of surrogates, but he attacks personally himself. And so, it's so -- it's a different kind of warfare. What Romney has to learn, in talking to some Republicans today is that he's going to have to figure out a way to go after Newt himself. And he hasn't really managed to do that successfully yet.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we keep saying tonight that South Carolina is a more conservative state. It is. And it is true that Newt Gingrich lives closer by.

But we have to keep remembering that only 10 days ago, everybody, we thought Romney was going to win this. And what happened was, from my perspective, Newt Gingrich is an alpha male, and he went in and just took it away from him. He's a very strong guy. There's no wonder people are saying they think he'll be a tougher candidate.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And people might say, well, look, there's two debates and influence by that. But, you know, next week, there's two debates in Florida.

GERGEN: Right.

BORGER: Right. But why -- you know, the question really is, why did Romney give -- lose on this income tax issue?

GERGEN: I think so.

BORGER: This is kind of silly. I mean, everybody knows he gives a lot of money to the Mormon Church. He admitted he paid a 15 percent tax rate. This is a Republican primary. That's not a bad thing. Republicans want to lower your tax rates.

There is some personal inability to deal with the issue of his personal wealth.

COOPER: I want to bring in Peter Hamby who spent an awful lot of time on the ground in South Carolina. He's in Lexington tonight -- CNN's Peter Hamby.

Peter, when did Gingrich really start to surge on the ground in South Carolina?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, what's interesting, Anderson, back in October, even before Newt Gingrich surged the first time in Iowa, he relocated staff here in the first or second week of October. They billed the state as his, quote-unquote, "grassroots firewall". They always viewed South Carolina as their strongest card to play even before they surged way back when.

But in the last week, I mean, I can tell you, Romney people saw the bottom fall out. Internal polling showed that in the last 24 hours down here. Gingrich really surged as you guys have been talking about on the strength of his debates.

What's interesting, though, there's been a lot of talk about organization down here. The Gingrich campaign had a strong ground game, but they were pretty disorganized, is what Republicans here said. The thought was that Rick Santorum had the good ground game. Mitt Romney had the ground game. Newt Gingrich didn't really have that strong robust campaign organization and he really won again just on the strength of his exchanges in these debates.

And you really saw, talking to voters, that they were coming out of the polls, breaking late, those undecided voters, for Newt Gingrich, just from anecdotal conversations that we've had on the ground today, Anderson.

COOPER: It's fascinating stuff.

We're going to talk more with David and Gloria.

Wolf, you have something with the exit polls that John has been counting.

BLITZER: Yes, the exit polls, Anderson, do show Newt Gingrich ahead 38 percent to 29 percent over Mitt Romney. But we're digging deeper.

KING: We're digging deeper.

A couple of questions. Number one, Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Four years ago when he ran in South Carolina, a lot of people thought he collapsed in the end in part because evangelical doubts about the Mormon faith.

Number two, the allegations from Newt Gingrich's second ex-wife, that he had asked for an open marriage. A lot of people wondered, would that affect the gender gap? Could we have a gender gap in South Carolina?

Well, let's look, the electorate and the exit poll split 50/50 -- 50 percent men, 50 percent women.

Let's look first at how men voted -- 41 percent for Newt Gingrich. You see a much bigger slice of the pie. Twenty-seven percent for Governor Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum coming in. So Newt Gingrich winning decisively among men.

Here was the question, what about women? Newt Gingrich winning among women as well. That's what's --

BLITZER: Pretty significant. KING: Yes.

The Romney campaign was counting on a gender gap. Instead, Gingrich 36, Romney 30. That is significant. That's one of the reasons he's leading in an evenly split electorate. He carried them now.

Here's how we're trying to get -- there's no direct question in the exit poll saying, do you oppose or support Mitt Romney? Does that -- your vote have anything to do with his faith?

But let's look at this one. Do the candidates' religious beliefs matter a great deal? Candidates' religious beliefs matter a great deal to you when you voted? Forty-three percent voted for Gingrich, only 9 percent -- only 9 percent voted for Mitt Romney. Well below his standing even -- if he's running in second, as exit poll suggests.

BLITZER: Is that a hint because he's a Mormon?

KING: It's a hint that if your religious beliefs matter a great deal, you did not vote for Mitt Romney. So, there's a hint for you there.

Now, how do we back that up? If the religious beliefs mattered somewhat, 45 percent, Gingrich still winning a stronger performance, was still behind for Governor Romney, 29 percent there -- religious beliefs only mattered somewhat.

And then if you look here, religious beliefs don't matter at all, Governor Romney wins among this subset of the electorate, 42 percent to 29 percent.

So you can make the case for those who went to the voting poll saying how a candidate prays, what religion they belong to, their faith matters a lot to me, Romney suffered. Voters who win in and say, no religion has nothing to do with how I vote, he wins.

BLITZER: Yes. I don't know about you, but when you were in South Carolina, and I was there, I got a sense just talking anecdotally with some people very randomly, they don't talk about it publicly, but that Mormon issue was something they were thinking about.

KING: It comes up underground sometimes. And I think less of an issue this cycle than four years ago. People are getting more familiar. Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman was a candidate in this race for a while. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader for Democrats, is a Mormon. If you move west, but in an evangelical, strong evangelical state, some evangelical pastors still criticize the Mormon faith as a cult. Again, less of an issue this time, but if you look at the exit poll data, clearly, some voters, faith was a factor.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Let's go back to Anderson -- Anderson.

COOPER: What do you guys make of those numbers showing those who say faith is very important and not voting for Romney?

CARVILLE: You know, when you lose by nine, or you win by nine, you carry a lot of different groups. I mean, the top (INAUDIBLE) is what happen. And I think Gingrich, it's pretty amazing.

My wife, who understands the right wing as well as anybody, said you just can't count him out. I thought he was dead and, you know, apparently he's back for now.

The big issue you're going to see is Romney is going to call on Newt to release his contract that he had with Freddie Mac, because the Freddie Mac people said we don't have a problem. So, what we're going to see once the attacks come up, he's going to say you release your contract. That's going to be a big --

COOPER: He's also been hammering Newt Gingrich on the ethics probe, ethnics scandal, Newt Gingrich having to pay $300,000 years before. Newt Gingrich -- do you think that has any legs?

FLEISCHER: This is where things are going to get dicey for Republicans, because it turns into the bitter issue of you release yours, you release this. Personal ethics problem here and personal ethics problem there, and Republicans fail to focus on the deficit, deficit, spending, debt. This is a problem with Republicans. We've got to get through this somehow.

CASTELLANOS: But there is a campaign going on and they do want to win. So, I think what we're going to see over the next week, the Romney folks have run a very vanilla campaign, very discipline, very well-organized. But an established campaign, there's no out there who could beat him.

The good news for them in Iowa and New Hampshire was Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich were dead. One of them has come back now. So, Romney lost those evangelical voters not just on faith, but because they're more conservative.

He's now going to be tested. How does he get some of those voters back? It can't be by going to right of Newt Gingrich. He has to attack Gingrich, but he also has to demonstrate strength.

Florida is where he's going to be tested. He's got a debate coming up this week. We're going to have to see Mitt Romney, hey, I could change Washington, I could do something.

It's funny, Goldwater is a candidate we should remember. At some point, Republicans say, you know what? The establishment candidate is not strong enough to do the job we need done in this country. I may go with this other guy, even though he may not win, but probably won't, but he'll move the cause, we'll be better for the country than the other guy.

And that's what Gingrich could actually do.

COOPER: I want to explain to our viewers why we're not calling this race at this point. We have these exit polls that we've been watching, the numbers are very clear in the exit polls.

Let's go over, talk to Mark Preston, our political director, who is actually crunching these numbers. Mark, what do you -- why have we not called this race?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, right now, we only have two precincts center and we only have numbers from two real precincts right now, Anderson. So, it's very hard to say that someone has actually won.

We have to point out that in Iowa and New Hampshire, the early exit polls show that Mitt Romney was understated. So at this point, even though we're seeing other news organizations saying that Newt Gingrich has won, out of abundance of a caution, we think that we just should wait a little more, get a little more data, match this up against these exit polls. And then come out with the winner.

COOPER: So, bottom line, you want to see real votes, not just exit polls before calling this.

PRESTON: Yes, absolutely, because -- I mean, look, these will give us a guiding light and sometimes they're correct, but not be correct?

COOPER: How much pressure do you feel right now to call this thing?

PRESTON: It's all on you.

COOPER: Yes. Mark, appreciate that.

Wolf, it's interesting to see behind the scenes, what we call the cube where all our analysts are crunching the numbers and watching this thing very, very closely. As soon as they feel comfortable, we haven't make a call, we'll obviously do that live, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we want to be safe rather than sorry.

The first official numbers, though, are coming in, very, very early. Only 1 percent of the precincts reporting. Actually, only two precincts have reported. So, it's less than 1 percent. But take a look at this, these numbers are very, very early.

Mitt Romney 36 percent, Newt Gingrich 35 percent, Rick Santorum, 13 percent, 10 percent for Ron Paul. But you see only a few hundred votes there that have come in, maybe 1,500 voters or so.

We are expecting maybe 400,000 or so people to vote in this Republican primary in South Carolina.

All right. He may be ahead in the exit polls but we're not ready to make a projection -- at least not yet. If -- this could be a very, very exciting night, an important night, especially important for Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Our coverage here at the CNN election center will continue in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've got ballot cameras across the state of South Carolina. Right now, we're waiting for some ballots to arrive in Conway County, Lexington. We're going to show you the actual results as they are counted. These official results were standing by for that.

Let's take a look at the official results that we have so far. It's very, very early, as you can see -- 1 percent of the precincts reporting.

Mitt Romney, at least in the official count, 36 percent to 35 percent for Newt Gingrich. Rick Santorum 13 percent. Ron Paul 10 percent.

But this is very, very early. More numbers will be coming in, official numbers coming in very soon.

John King is watching all of this unfold.

Once again, just to remind viewers who might be tuning in, the exit polls show that Newt Gingrich has 38 percent to 29 percent. Not yet -- we're not ready to make an official CNN projection. But maybe we will soon.

KING: Because you have that big gap in the exit polls, we still want to see some results come in. And when the early results come in and they show Governor Romney ahead, you just want to count a few more doubts. There's no reason to doubt the exit polls. This is smart, statistically valid results. But we like to actually count the real votes here. Better safe than sorry in a situation like this.

As you watch the map start to fill, in emphasis on early. One percent -- just 1 percent of the vote. So when you see Governor Romney ahead, that doesn't mean the exit poll is bad. It means the precincts that are reporting early are reporting Romney.

Here in the middle of the part of the state, you see 49 percent here. This is a part of the state where he was expected to do very well. But again, that's almost zero percent of the vote in this county. So, that's one precinct reporting some votes, not much to worry about.

Let me show you how the state divides into geographic regions. You look up here, this is where you find up in the midlands, up here in Piedmont, this is where you find your evangelical voters. You see, it's starting to fill in for Gingrich again. A tiny percentage of the vote.

But this is big populous area of the state, and where you find a lot of evangelicals and Tea Party voters. This is the midlands here, the capital of Columbia, down in through here. This is where John McCain did very well four years ago, Governor Romney would have to do extremely well here to win in this part of the state.

Up here, they call this the P.D. Again, rural areas, more conservative areas. Up here, Myrtle Beach over here.

When you come over sometimes, you move the map, it moves Myrtle Beach area over here. But up here, rural communities, some retirees, smaller communities and the coast down here, this is the lowlands, the low country down here. Charleston down here in this area, more moderate part of the state.

As you watch it fill in, Wolf, the important thing to remember, very, very early on in the votes.

I want to slide over a little bit, just look at a couple more things at our exit poll data that are interesting. Who decided in the last few days? Well, among those who decided in the last few days, Speaker Gingrich is getting 43 percent of the vote. And we know more than half of the voters decided either today or in the last few days. So, 43 percent of the vote to 22 percent for Governor Romney -- again, an indication that debates matter. Two debates in the last week, Gingrich attacking the news media, attacking his rivals, he did very well there.

Who decided just today? Last minute decision is the Romney campaign had hoped after the debate, people might reconsider heading into the final day, not at all -- 43 percent for Newt Gingrich among those who decided today, 27 percent for Governor Romney, 21 percent for Rick Santorum. So, a little bit of a surge at the end for him. Nine percent for Ron Paul among those who decided today.

One more quick point I want to make here, among very conservative voters, very conservative voters, very conservative voters. This is the first slice of the Republican electorate. This is more conservative than Iowa, more conservative than New Hampshire.

If the race goes on for a long time, somewhat in Florida then Super Tuesday, a lot of states in the South -- the South will matter, more conservative voters will matter. If this goes on, still an if, how long, but Newt Gingrich winning almost half of those voters who describe themselves, Wolf, as very conservative. Governor Romney in third place. Senator Santorum coming with 23 percent.

So that's a problem for Governor Romney if the campaign extends, you get into Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Newt Gingrich's home, Georgia. Rick Perry drops out, says he's going to back Newt Gingrich in Texas. This is the weakness Governor Romney is going to have to deal with, if we're going to have a protracted Republican nomination battle.

BLITZER: We have no reason to believe at this point, even if Rick Santorum does comes in third or fourth for that matter, that he's going to drop out.

KING: Absolutely not. The reporting I was making today and last night, Dana Bash's own reporting on the Santorum campaign as well, their calculation essentially is this -- yes, they won't have as much money. Yes, a third or fourth place position in South Carolina will thwart or at least make it harder to raise money in the future. But they say they have enough on hand to go into Florida to try to compete.

Here's your basic calculation. They believe Gingrich, if he wins Florida, could deliver an almost knockout blow to Mitt Romney. And then they think, Wolf, the Republican establishment will have a panic attack over the possibility of a Newt Gingrich as the nominee. So, they say, you know what? Let's stay standing a while. There's a lot of volatility left to play out.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, Santorum did win in Iowa. Mitt Romney won in New Hampshire. And now, if these exit polls prove to be accurate, Newt Gingrich wins in South Carolina. Three candidates, three separate winners in these first three contests.

KING: And don't forget Ron Paul. In a wide open race, Ron Paul will continue to be a factor.

BLITZER: Let's go back to you, Anderson. It could be an exciting night tonight.

COOPER: It's already been an exciting tonight.

Let's check in with Erick Erickson, who is editor in chief with RedState.com, as well as CNN contributor Roland Martin.

Erick, to what affect, Newt Gingrich on the ground in South Carolina talked a lot about local issues. How much do you think that resonated and helped him in the state?

ERICK ERICKSON, REDSTATE.COM: I think it was a big issue. I think one of the undercurrents of this election is that it became in the last week a proxy fight between Governor Nikki Haley and Speaker Harrell in South Carolina. The speaker backed Newt Gingrich. He has a big grassroots operation throughout the state, including a lot of sheriffs who are more affiliated with the speaker than they are the governor. The governor backed Mitt Romney.

So there was a proxy fight going on under the radar on this and the speaker wanted to show his grassroots to deliver to Newt Gingrich.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, I think one of the things we have to step back and realize is that these primaries are not necessarily national primaries. They are state primaries. So when you talk about Florida, when you talk about these Southern states, we begin to talk about what happens in the Midwest, in the Western states. At the end of the day, if you're a Republican runners, you have to deal with delegates.

And so, I don't necessarily believe in this knockout punch, that South Carolina can knock Romney or Gingrich out. That Florida can do exactly the same as well.

This is going to be this long slug and you have to get to that number. And so, yes, Romney might not win a Georgia or a Tennessee or Mississippi, but he's sitting here thinking what happens in Michigan, what happens in Virginia, what happens in Ohio, what happens in Pennsylvania? Then you go to the West.

And so, I think we have to step back and realize it's not going to be over with just a couple states knocking somebody out.

COOPER: Erick, how significant are these exit polls? I mean, among evangelicals, Gingrich win -- among born again Christians, among women, among married women. You know, there had been this whole question, would women vote for Newt Gingrich?

Clearly, in South Carolina today, they did.

ERICKSON: Right. But, you know, the news hasn't that time on the marital issues to really soak in from the Marianne Gingrich issue. That will factor when we're getting to Florida.

Only evangelical, being an evangelical, I'm going to tell you, most of my evangelical friends, myself included, our concern with Mitt Romney into the state is that we question whether he is Mormon enough. You heard that in the evangelical meeting in Texas where they went to Santorum, looking at the social issues in Massachusetts.

Evangelical voters tend to be very conservative. Very conservative voters went with Newt Gingrich. Moderate voters tend to not go to churches regularly, they went with Mitt Romney. There's a correlation causation issue there, largely it went with -- the conservatives went with Newt Gingrich, the moderates went with Mitt Romney. It reflects also on their faith preferences.

COOPER: We've got to take a break. We'll check in with you guys throughout this evening. A lot ahead, this whole race has changed from what it was a week ago. It's amazing.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN projects Newt Gingrich the winner of the South Carolina primary. The former speaker of the House winning South Carolina, coming from at least 10 points behind only a week ago in so many of the polls. All of a sudden he's the winner of South Carolina. A winner in South Carolina, different winner than the winner in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney won in New Hampshire. Different than Iowa, where in Iowa the results were coming in and we now know that Rick Santorum belatedly had won.

Jim Acosta is over at Newt Gingrich's headquarters right now. The excitement I'm sure, electric over there, Jim. Give us a little sense how passionate, how excited are they?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're very excited right now, Wolf. I can tell you just a few minutes ago, Newt Gingrich himself sent out a tweet, basically thanking South Carolina saying, "Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida." An indication that he knows that Mitt Romney is down, but not out. I had just a brief chance a few moments ago to talk to Newt Gingrich's daughters. They were in the room just a few moments ago. And they said they were very excited and that they're looking forward to the race down in Florida. That is starting tomorrow.

But over the last few minutes, I can tell you, Wolf, this room has been filling up little by little and I have to say, I think this soundtrack here was probably preordained by the campaign staff earlier today, expecting a victory. We heard "Bad to the Bone" and the theme to "Rocky." Sort of matching the feeling inside the Gingrich camp as they're sort of the Rocky Balboa in this race here in South Carolina. They came out of nowhere, down double digits to Mitt Romney, you know, faced all of those attacks from the Romney forces, not only the governor's campaign, but the pro Romney superpac and here we are, looking at Newt Gingrich winning the South Carolina primary.

You know, one of the amazing things talking to South Carolina Republican officials down here, they will always point out very proudly that South Carolina picks presidents. That every primary winner since 1980 on the Republican side has gone on to be the nominee. If that is the case, then Republicans potentially are looking at their nominee tonight. They might be asking themselves, is this the one they want to stick with going forward?

BLITZER: South Carolina picks nominees. Not necessarily presidents but they do pick nominees, at least since 1980 on the Republican side.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Anderson, I don't think it's happened in a long time, if never. Three early contests, three different winners on the Republican side.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I think on the democratic side, 1980 maybe with Tsongas, who else? I don't know. We'll look at. I think it happened in 1980 on the democratic side. Let's go to the cube and check in with Mark Preston, our political director and find out why we were able to call this now as opposed to 10 or so minutes ago when we thought we weren't.

So Mark, what changed in the last 10 minutes?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you know, Anderson, we got enough of the raw vote in, the real vote, you know, the vote that people cast. We were able to match it together with these numbers as we talked before. Put them together and what's interesting is we focused on the counties that we thought Newt Gingrich would do well in and he has done well in or he has exceeded what we thought he would do.

We were able to take this formula put together, our exit team, exit poll team, which is our pollster, our statisticians and our political folks together, crunch it together, that's how we get it.

COOPER: So you know, technically Romney is still ahead in the raw votes, the votes that are so far come in, you were still able to make this projection?

PRESTON: Yes, absolutely. Because we're taking this exit poll data from the exit poll interviewers, put it together, mold it together and that's where you get this statistical model and we're able to project the winner.

COOPER: All right. It's a fascinating calculation from Mark Preston. Appreciate it. We'll check in with Mark throughout the evening. Critical to watch now, Wolf, what margin of victory this is. This is going to be double digits by how much? Lots of things to watch for in the hours ahead.

BLITZER: Yes, certainly is. But you've got to give right now Newt Gingrich a lot, a lot of credit the way he has come back. You know what? He didn't necessarily have a whole lot of strategic political advisers. As he likes to say, he was giving himself probably the best advice.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Well, remember his team quit in June, much of them went to the Perry campaign. But Newt Gingrich has a small step, as he started to pick up a little bit more fund-raising and he did pick up more people. Again, southern affinity as you watch them at (INAUDIBLE) fill in. The early results do show Governor Romney still leading. But as Mark Preston just explained, without a doubt, without a doubt. We are sure of our projection because of where the votes are coming in.

Now, Wolf, we slide over here a little bit. We talked a little bit about our exit poll data. It's fascinating stuff about why people voted about a very conservative electorate today. I want to show the impact of people's - their own personal finances on the election today. People who are falling behind, 21 percent of the electorate, how did they vote? People are struggling in this economy. 42 percent voted for Newt Gingrich. Again, that's a damning indictment at least in this state of Mitt Romney who says he's the best guy to handle the economy, to turn it around. That has been his central campaign theme.

Speaker Gingrich beating him among those voters who feel at the moment they're falling behind financially. 67 percent, 2/3 of the electorate that voted today, they're holding steady, maybe things aren't great but they're about the same. So how did they vote? 39 percent for Speaker Gingrich. Again, he's winning that piece of the pie there, 28 percent for Governor Romney. Smaller slices for Senator Santorum and Ron Paul.

Those who feel that things are OK, holding steady, again, Speaker Gingrich. This is interesting if you look at it. Those who say they are getting ahead, they're doing well in the economy right now, this is the only economic subset where Governor Romney came out on top. 35 percent there, 30 percent here. Let's break this down by income. That's sort of the psychology the voter who went in. Well, where do they rank in the economy and how did they vote? Let's pull this up here.

We'll look at a couple of these. The largest slice, as you noticed, voters in the $50,000 to $100,000 income, annual income range, has the biggest slice of your electorate in South Carolina, 39 percent to 26 percent. That's Gingrich. That's Romney. Again the biggest slice of the electorate, Gingrich carrying it. That tells you something. Here's an interesting footnote, Wolf. Among those making $200,000 or more, only six percent of your primary electorate in South Carolina today. Among more affluent people South Carolina Republicans, Governor Romney carries that group and quite decisively 47 percent to 31 percent for Speaker Gingrich. But again remember, this group, $200,000 or more a year made up only six percent of your electorate today.

BLITZER: Interesting numbers. You go inside of those exit poll numbers and you see a sense of what's going on and why we can now project that Newt Gingrich is the winner of the South Carolina primary. Let me walk over and show our viewers what's going on. We're waiting for speeches over Gingrich's headquarters. Romney headquarters, Santorum headquarters. We're going to hear from Ron Paul throughout the night. All four of the candidates will be speaking. You'll hear it live. You'll see it live right here on CNN.

And something else that we're going to do once again tonight, we're going to go to Florida. That's the next contest on January 31st. Tom Foreman is over in Jacksonville, Florida right now. He's got a group. Tom, you've got a group of what, about 40 or 45 undecided Republicans who are going to be listening to these four speeches and giving us a sense of what they think? Explain what's going to happen.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. All of these voters are here, they're all Republicans and they are all undecided. They may lean one way or another but they're not decided yet. They're wanting to see the results of what comes out of there and -

BLITZER: Tom, hold on one second. Tom, hold on a second. We're having a little trouble hearing you. What we're going to do is we're going to come back to you as soon as we fix that audio. I want to make sure all of our viewers in the United States and around the world hear you precisely, because this is going to be a fascinating moment once the viewers get a chance to hear what's going on.

We're going to see all four of these candidates, including our projected winner of the South Carolina primary. Newt Gingrich getting ready to make a speech. They're all going to be delivering what their aides Have told me would be important speeches tonight, assessing where they go from here. We've already seen the speeches in New Hampshire and in Iowa. Since tonight is going to be potentially even more important for these four remaining Republican candidates. We'll get back to Tom Foreman and that group in Jacksonville, Florida in a moment. Anderson, why don't I got back to you in the meantime?

COOPER: Well, yes, as you said, this is the first time on the GOP side that we've had three different winners for these three contests. It happened in '92 - I misspoke previously with (INAUDIBLE) Tsongas and Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton winning in South Carolina for the democratic side. Where does the race go from here?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Florida, Florida, Florida. And that, you would think, is more tailor made for Mitt Romney. He's already been spending money -

COOPER: He's been flooding the state with money already.

BORGER: He has and also don't forget Florida has an awful lot of early voting, and Romney has been organizing early voters in that state.

COOPER: Right. I think, Ari Fleischer, you yesterday, you pointed out that 30 percent of votes are already in, absentee?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I was told yesterday by officials in Florida. Thirty percent of those they expect to vote have already cast their ballot already.

BORGER: There were some counties for example that were voting today. And if you see the momentum going towards Newt Gingrich where those people are following the momentum and going to vote for Newt Gingrich.

The other big question I have about Florida is Jeb Bush. Everybody kind of understands that Jeb Bush likes Mitt Romney. But he hasn't actually come out and endorsed Mitt Romney. And the question that I have is, is Mitt Romney - you guys were saying is Jeb Bush getting into the race? My question is, is Jeb Bush going to endorse Mitt Romney and how much would that help Mitt Romney in that state?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the Bush family bears no love for Newt Gingrich, going back to the father and what happened to them and how they felt that Newt Gingrich undermined his presidency and helped cost him his re-election. So there's a lot of bad blood going back. But I do think that we'll be talking about this more with everybody as the night goes on.

Florida is much more like the rest of the country. And what we know is in the last few days, Mitt Romney has not only seen his lead disappear in South Carolina, he's seen his national lead shrink. So the gallop says it's been cut in half, it went from some 20 points a week ago to 10 points. That same thing is probably starting to happen in Florida. We don't have polls to show it.

COOPER: If Mitt Romney loses in Florida, comes second in Florida -

BORGER: That's bad.

COOPER: Can he recover from that?

BORGER: Well, you know, I was jut going through all of the early states, and a lot of the states sort of favor Mitt Romney, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota. But when you get to super Tuesday, what's interesting, Newt Gingrich not on the ballot in the state of Virginia. But I keep on looking at the state of Ohio. Another battleground state. And I could see this contest coming down to two states, Florida and Ohio.

GERGEN: If he loses Florida, there are going to be a lot of folks at the top of the Republican Party that are going to be saying who else? Where else do we go? Because they are -

COOPER: (INAUDIBLE) somebody else (INAUDIBLE)?

GERGEN: We'll they might have a brokered convention. You can have a lot of ways -

COOPER: We got to go. Let's check in with Wolf now. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Anderson, let me show our viewers the numbers that are coming in. About four percent of the precincts have now reported. Let's put them up and show our viewers what's going on. Newt Gingrich is clearly ahead right now, 36 percent to 34 percent with 6,849 for Newt Gingrich, 6,452 for Mitt Romney, 15 percent for Rick Santorum, 11 percent for Ron Paul. But four percent of the precincts are reporting, so it's still early in the official numbers.

But based on all the exit poll information that's coming in, based on these official numbers, CNN has projected that Newt Gingrich is the winner in South Carolina. We're waiting to hear from Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. They'll be speaking soon. You'll hear them. You'll see them live right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to CNN's Dana Bash. She has an exclusive with Rick Santorum. Dana, help us appreciate what Rick Santorum's next moves are going to be.

DANA BASH: I'll ask the senator himself. I'll just tell you really quickly and for our viewers, this is a pretty rare thing, because we are inside Senator Santorum's war room here and we have an exclusive interview with the candidate himself. First of all, your reaction to the fact that Newt Gingrich, your former colleague in the House of Representatives, has won this primary?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, congratulations to Newt. That's a great victory for him. He staked his flag here in South Carolina, said he had to win here and he kicked butt and I give him a lot of credit. I'm proud of him for what he accomplished. You know, the great narrative is this that three days ago, there was an inevitability in this race.

Mitt Romney was 2-0 and it was soon to be 3-0 and I took Iowa, Newt took South Carolina, and it's game on again. I can't be more excited for the opportunity now to see this campaign go on and we're going to have it go on for a long time.

BASH: Now, you said Newt Gingrich kicked butt with respect, why didn't you kick butt?

SANTORUM: Well, you know, we didn't get the bump that we really had hoped for out of Iowa. We did well, but we didn't win. And yesterday they determined we won, not quite in time for us to get the kind of bounce that we wanted. We felt like we - we felt like these last few days, I think you'll see, we picked up some momentum, our numbers are much better than the polls were saying just a couple of days ago. Got a good debate on Thursday night. I think we started to draw the lines with Perry dropping out and endorsing Newt.

I just think that there's a momentum for Newt right now and he capitalized on it. I think our momentum's going to be a little longer lasting. We have conservative organizations, we just got together and started endorsing this week. We're really not in the position to do much on the ground in South Carolina in a short period of time but we think for the long-term, we're going to be in much stronger shape. BASH: I've been following you around for the past few days here in this state. You've been making the case very forcefully that Newt Gingrich in particular is not electable. Well, our exit polls show that that's not true. In fact, voters here for the first time have time have said that Newt Gingrich is more electable even to Mitt Romney and that you got eight percent when it comes to the ability to beat Barack Obama. That's not a good sign.

SANTORUM: Well, that's just one state. I mean, if you'd have gone to the previous state, they would have said Newt wasn't electable and I was, Romney was. You go to Iowa, it would have been different. This is a long race. This is one of the things that I think people have to understand. As a result of what happened here tonight, this race isn't going to be over next week or the week after. This race is going to be a long one and it's going to be the best thing that could happen for whoever the eventual Republican nominee is because that nominee is going to be sharpened by steel. They're going to have the opportunity over the next several weeks and months to be able to make the case to the American public and prove their own ability to beat Barack Obama and I feel very comfortable as people keep examining the candidates over that period of time, we're going to do exceptionally well and we'll come out on top.

BASH: One more question about this particular state. You got a big boost last weekend when the evangelical leaders met in Texas and said they are going to coalesce behind your candidacy. But it didn't really show up here in the sate where evangelicals voters really are a bigger part of the voting bloc than any other state. So that can't be a good sign.

SANTORUM: Again, as I said before, they endorsed last week - the mechanisms for these organizations to be able to turn themselves around and actually start producing something on the ground, it takes a little bit more time than a couple of days. We felt like we did get some support out there and some lift. We're going to see that play in a much bigger way as we go down the line.

BASH: Now, a couple of days ago when you officially won Iowa belatedly, you said that you weren't that upset about it. But now that you see results here, have you changed your mind? Did it hurt?

SANTORUM: It's always nice to win, you know, a clean win and have had the real bump, the whole narrative of Romney would have completely changed, the narrative of us would have been very different. That's why I've said that I think the impact of that is going to be probably seen more as we go forward than it was obviously in New Hampshire or here in South Carolina. So, again, I couldn't, you know, short of winning, I couldn't be happier with the way things turned out tonight.

BASH: I'm hearing from folks back in Washington, our John King is hearing from folks back in Washington, particularly Republicans on Capitol Hill that they're, to put it bluntly, freaking out about the idea of Newt Gingrich potentially getting the nomination. Are you trying to capitalize on that, are you talking quietly to Mitch McConnell, your former colleagues in the Senate, asking them to open up their donor lists, asking them to help you with grass roots across the country?

SANTORUM: Like I said, I couldn't be happier with what happened here. I made the case, I'm going to continue to make the case. Those who have worked with Congressman Gingrich know what's in store if he's the nominee for our party and they also know what's in store with Rick Santorum as someone who has - who has been out there as a strong conviction conservative. Look at all the debates. Go back and look at them. Go in and see where did I make the mistake? Where did I fall, solid performances, solid speeches, no drama, no surprises, no what's around the corner. That's exactly what the conservative movement needs right now, someone who can make Barack Obama the issue in this race instead of being issue themselves.

BASH: And you're on to Florida. You already put your schedule out tomorrow, right?

SANTORUM: Yes, I'll be on to Florida tomorrow. And look we're not just going to just go to Florida. We're going out. We're going to start campaigning in a lot of states. As you know, they got Nevada right after Florida and then Minnesota, Colorado, we're planning some events in Colorado right now. We're very excited about our opportunity.

BASH: Senator, thank you very much for letting us talk to you on this important night and letting us into this war room. All your folks working back there.

SANTORUM: We're here at the Citadel.

BASH: Thank you, senator.

SANTORUM: Thank you very much.

BASH: Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Dana, thanks very much and thank the senator once again.

Let's show our viewers where the official tally stands right now and we'll put it up on the screen. We've projected that Newt Gingrich is the winner. Seven percent of the precincts now have reported, 37 percent for Newt Gingrich, 32 percent for Mitt Romney. That's 12,100 for Newt Gingrich, 10,300 or so for Mitt Romney. 16 percent for Rick Santorum but you just heard Rick Santorum tell Dana Bash that he is in this race, he is looking at not only to Florida but even further to Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, some of the other states. Ron Paul right now with seven percent of the precincts reporting with 12 percent, almost 4,000 votes.

You're looking at live pictures coming in from Romney headquarters and Gingrich headquarters. Both of these candidates are getting ready to speak. Mitt Romney I think is going to be speaking very soon and then Newt Gingrich is going to be speaking afterward.

Tom Foreman is with a group of undecided Republicans watching in Jacksonville, Florida. That's where we'll have our CNN Republican debate next Thursday night. Tom, you got some undecided Republicans. They're going to be watching and letting our viewers around the world know how they feel about various aspects of the speeches that will be delivered.

FOREMAN: That's exactly right, Wolf. Just as Mr. Santorum said a minute ago, the race now moves here and these folks will be watching and using these. They're called perception analyzers. We're here at the University of North Florida. These are from Southern Methodist University. Some experts are here who are going to be looking at the output from this while these folks listen to the speeches and say whether they like it or don't like it and the results of that will be feeding back around here to these banks of computers in the back and these experts from Southern Methodist University will be analyzing the output. We'll have that on the screen real-time while those speeches are going down, Wolf, so can you see instantly the reaction that's coming up here in Florida, which as you know, is the next big battle ground. Later in the evening we'll come back and talk to some of these folks as well about why they feel the way they do about these speeches.

It's a fascinating insight into the next big battleground, Wolf. And tonight all these folks are waiting to hear what's coming out of South Carolina.

BLITZER: That's why we'll see those squiggly lines at the bottom of the screen, what they like, what they don't like, the men and the women. And we're going to get their assessment and then later, presumably, Tom, and correct me if I'm wrong, you'll go to these undecided folks in Florida and ask them if they made up their minds based on what has happened in South Carolina tonight and based on the speeches they heard.

FOREMAN: Absolutely right, Wolf. And last time we found in South Carolina what we did with the group there at the end of the voting in New Hampshire, by evening's end when they heard these speeches, a lot of people had made up their minds. This is a big night for the campaigns not just in South Carolina but here in Florida because what comes out of South Carolina undoubtedly will have an effect on this state. And as you know, Wolf, this is one of the biggest electoral prizes in the whole nation.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, we'll get back to you. We're looking forward to seeing those squiggly lines. Anderson, as you know and I've spoke with a lot of political strategists out there, you know what? They're going to watch those squiggly lines as closely as anyone. So this is a real focus group of undecided Floridians Republicans who will be voting on January 31st in Florida.

COOPER: And of course, it's where the race moves next.

We are here with Democrats and Republicans, James Carville, Donna Brazile on the democratic side, Ari Fleischer, Alex (INAUDIBLE) on the Republican. We're waiting to hear from Mitt Romney. We're going to bring that to you live. He's now in the room. As we wait for him to come and speak, James, I saw you kind of scoffing when you heard Rick Santorum saying he couldn't be happier. JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, that's why people hate politicians. Of course he's not happy. And anybody who grew up rural like I do knows that when you decapitate a chicken, the chicken keeps going around. Everybody knows the chicken is dead except for the chicken. Well we just saw an interview with a headless chicken. The only chicken that thinks that he's alive is Rick Santorum. You saw Jon Huntsman who said he was going to South Carolina. You saw Rick Perry he was going to South Carolina. We all knew they were headless chickens. We just saw an interview with a headless chicken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This chicken may have another head because Newt Gingrich has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to go up like a Roman candle and then burn out and fall to earth. He could well could that again. That would leave Santorum.