Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich stormed to victory in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary with wide support from almost every category of voters — except those who care the most about a candidate’s moral character.
According to exit polls, Mr. Gingrich won a majority of support from voters who listed a candidate’s most important qualification as beating President Obama, being a true conservative or having the right experience.
But only 6 percent of voters who said strong moral character is the most important quality chose the thrice-married Mr. Gingrich, who has been dogged throughout his campaign by questions about his personal morality.
Those voters tended to support former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who have been married to their wives for decades. Along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the three at various times have contrasted their own marriages with Mr. Gingrich’s past.
His colorful marital history returned to the forefront last week after ABC aired an interview with his second wife, Marianne Gingrich, who accused Mr. Gingrich of asking her for an “open marriage” at the same time he was traveling around the country talking about family and religious values.
Mr. Gingrich fought back, blasting CNN’s John King for kicking off the Thursday Republican debate by asking him about the charges, calling it “as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”
The former House speaker struck a similar tune at his victory party Saturday night, where he partially attributed his win to a backlash against the media.
“I think it was something very fundamental that I wish the powers that be in the news media would take seriously,” he said. “The American people feel that they have elites who have been trying for a half-century to force us to quit being America and to be some other system.”
His vehement defense seems to have worked, even making some voters more likely to vote for him.
Jill Kearse, a Columbia, S.C., resident, told The Washington Times that the last-minute charges “sealed the deal” for her.
“That was dirty to do it right before an election,” Ms. Kearse said. “If she really had something she needed to say, she should have said it when [the campaign] started, and I think [the media] think we don’t realize that she was a parrot for him at one time, too, so to me it was dirty politics.”