[NOTE: This post was updated throughout the evening, with the final update at 10:45 p.m.]
The shift of circumstances for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who began the week preparing, effectively, to wrap up the GOP nomination today, means that Romney now faces additional scrutiny, continued challenges and another primary in 10 days.
Romney was coming in second, garnering 26 percent of the vote. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) was in third, with 18 percent of the vote, and Santorum was in fourth, with 13 percent.
Gingrich's victory speech tonight largely focused on the former House speaker's fight against "the elites in Washington and New York" -- a line repeated multiple times throughout the speech. He ended, however, on a note that accentuated Romeny's wealth -- and presumptive "elite" status -- by declaring that his victory shows that "people power -- with ideas -- beats big money."
Ben Smith, editor in chief at BuzzFeed, wrote of the night's outcome, "Terrible night for the influence of the [social conservatives] who gathered in TX to endorse Santo[rum]."
Smith was referencing the 150 evangelical and other social conservative leaders who gathered in Texas this past weekend and chose Santorum as the social conservative standard-bearer. The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins said at the time, "There is a hope and expectation that those represented by the constituency will make a difference in South Carolina."
According to exit polls reported by Fox News, 65 percent of the South Carolina primary voters describe themselves as "born-again or evangelical Christian." Although "the constituency" may have turned out, they do not appear to have done so to Santorum's benefit.
More than Santorum, though, the night and the week have been tough on Romney. In addition to tonight's Gingrich victory, certification of results in the Iowa caucuses led to Romney's victory there being erased, with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) ending up with a slight edge on Romney in the state. In one week, Romney went from expecting three victories by tonight to ending with only one victory.
Before speaking tonight about his victory, Gingrich already reached out on Twitter, writing, "Thank you South Carolina! Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida. Join our Moneybomb and donate now." He provided a donation link there as well.
On behalf of GOProud, co-founder and chief strategist Christopher Barron issued a statement in which he said, "Tonight, we congratulate Speaker Gingrich on his victory in South Carolina. We are hopeful that in the contests ahead that Speaker Gingrich will run the type of positive campaign he promised earlier in the primary process."
Barron has been very critical of Gingrich, writing on Twitter this evening, "Among SC voters who said 'moral character' most important, Gingrich finished last. #SHOCKING" and, then, "Maybe Romney needs a girlfriend."
In GOProud's release, however, Barron said, "In the coming weeks, we look forward to hearing each of the remaining candidates articulate how they can defeat Barack Obama in November. At the end of the day, making Barack Obama a one-term President must be the goal of every conservative across this country."
Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper minimized the importance of Gingrich's South Carolina victory, telling Metro Weekly, "The primary in my home state of Florida will be a greater mark of who will be the Republican nominee. Unlike South Carolina, the demographics of Florida provide an electorate closer to what the nominee will face in the November general election."
Of the views of LCR members specifically, he added, "Like all Republicans during primary season, Log Cabin Republicans, including our members in the Palmetto state, have differing views of who should be our nominee. To date, we have members who are currently committed delegate or alternate delegate candidates to Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul and Romney."
Although polling prior to today in Florida shows Romney easily winning the Jan. 31 primary in Florida, today's results will lead observers to wait for new polling to allow likely voters there to reassess the campaign after today.
Come back to Metro Weekly for more on the Republican presidential primary and its impact on LGBT equality issues.
[Images: South Carolina field and victor by Aram Vartian; screen capture of Gingrich, with wife Callista, in South Carolina.]