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Perry exits; Santorum now No. 1 in Iowa

Words lift, batter former speaker

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS;JASON REED/REUTERS;JOE RAEDLE/GETTY IMAGES;MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES

Republicans Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum campaigned in South Carolina yesterday, seeking support in the state’s all-important presidential primary tomorrow.

CHARLESTON, S.C. - One candidate dropped out; another faced allegations from his exwife about his infidelity and desire for an ‘‘open’’ marriage; and a third discovered that he had not won the Iowa caucus vote after all. Even in a GOP presidential primary season with its share of surprises, yesterday’s revelations jarred both the field and its expectations before tomorrow’s important South Carolina vote.

Texas Governor Rick Perry had outpolled and outraised his rivals as recently as three months ago. But yesterday he called an end to his faltering campaign, throwing his support - and, he hoped, that of the conservative evangelicals who backed him - to former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

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“Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country,’’ Perry said. “Newt is not perfect, but who among us is? The fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God, and I believe in the power of redemption.’’

Perry’s reference to Gingrich’s personal shortcomings, and the overt appeal to fellow Christians to forgive, came as Gingrich found his surging candidacy staggered by accusations from the second of his three wives.

Marianne Gingrich accused her former husband on ABC’s “Nightline’’ last night of seeking an open marriage in 1999 so he could continue an affair with his mistress, Callista, a congressional aide at the time and now his third wife. Marianne Gingrich expressed her shock at learning that her husband had conducted his affair “in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington,’’ and said he does not have the moral character to be president.

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In an interview yesterday with the Washington Post, she said Gingrich demanded a divorce or open marriage at the same time he was touring the country giving speeches on the importance of marriage and families.

Gingrich called the ABC interview “tawdry and inappropriate’’ and brushed aside reporters’ questions during a campaign stop in Beaufort, according to the Associated Press.

David Woodard, a GOP political consultant and Clemson University professor who runs the Palmetto Poll, said the events of the day have made it a nightmare to predict what will happen.

“It’s clear to me that Gingrich is surging,’’ said Woodard, who will release his poll results this morning. “But I suspect that his wife talking about him wanting an open marriage will decrease it.’’

Last night, Gingrich’s campaign released his tax returns, showing he and Callista paid $994,708 in federal taxes in 2010 on about $3.1 million in income, including about $450,000 in wages and $2.5 million in income from partnerships and S corporations. They also paid $19,800 in alimony.

At an earlier campaign barbecue at a Walterboro hunting retreat, Randy White, who hosted the event, said he was encouraged by Gingrich’s surging poll numbers and the Perry endorsement.

He also hailed the news that a final count - 16 days later - showed Rick Santorum had more votes than Mitt Romney in Iowa, although officials there declined to declare anyone the winner because some batches of tallies had not been sent. Romney was initially declared the winner by eight votes.

White lamented negative attacks but said that is part of the typical atmosphere of a South Carolina Republican primary.

“It’s really bubbling around here,’’ he said. “This is a rough business, but I really do think Newt’s got a shot.’’

Several undecided voters who attended a Santorum rally said otherwise. They had already discounted Gingrich from their choices in part because of his personal baggage.

“He’s a hot mess,’’ said Amy Manucy, a Mount Pleasant resident who owns a graphic design company. “He’s kind of like a grumpy old man. He has lots of good ideas, but he’s not consistent.’’

Lisa Leone, also of Mount Pleasant, said that while Gingrich’s personal issues are not the most salient, they make a difference when other candidates such as Romney and Santorum appear to have “higher moral standards.’’

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who is trailing Romney and Gingrich in the latest South Carolina polls, continued to portray himself to Christian evangelicals as the best alternative to Romney. He was the sole candidate to appear at a socially conservative voters rally at a waterfront park in Mount Pleasant, which seemed to draw more media and out-of-state volunteers than voters.

“We’ve got a long and growing laundry list of national conservative leaders who understand that if we’re going to be successful in this race, we have to nominate someone who is going to make Barack Obama the issue in this race, not be the issue themselves,’’ Santorum said. “We can’t have a candidate that every day you’re going to worry that when you open the newspaper it’s an ‘Oh, what did he say today?’ moment.’’

Santorum had won the endorsement last weekend of a group of 150 national evangelical leaders. Yesterday, he spotlighted the endorsement of James Dobson, who founded the conservative Focus on the Family organization.

Santorum also sought to leverage the news out of Iowa.

“There’s been two primaries held now, and we won one,’’ Santorum said. “This is a solid win, a much stronger win than what Governor Romney claimed to have.’’

Romney, whose campaign had trumpeted his historic feat of winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, ignored reporters’ questions about the revised Iowa numbers as he climbed into his SUV following a visit to his campaign headquarters yesterday.

Analysts, however, took note.

“The sad part for Santorum is that the election is really about narrative, and the narrative has already been cast that Romney won Iowa and he won again in New Hampshire,’’ said Linda Abrams, a political science and history professor at the Christian fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville.

The change in Iowa results has no practical effect. The vote at the caucuses is symbolic, with the actual delegates parceled at Iowa’s state convention in a few weeks.

Abrams added that Perry’s endorsement of Gingrich could make a difference, but that Gingrich is also “very polarizing.’’ Some of Perry’s supporters may choose to rally around Santorum instead, she said.

“I have no question Newt Gingrich has the heart of a conservative reformer, the ability to rally and captivate the conservative movement, and the courage to tell the Washington interests to take a hike if it’s what is best for the country,’’ Perry said during his press conference.

Gingrich thanked Perry, and despite the Texas governor’s modest level of support in South Carolina - the latest CNN/Time poll gave him 6 percent of the vote - the former speaker told “PBS NewsHour’’ it would make a big difference nationally.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has not endorsed any candidate, said he believed Perry’s backing will help.

“This will matter in South Carolina,’’ Graham said in an interview. “Rick Perry does talk our talk, so even though he wasn’t polling well, there was an affinity, a closeness, to who he is, and I think he could be a very good surrogate for Newt in the closing 48 hours here.’’

Christopher Rowland, Michael Levenson, and Matt Viser of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Tracy Jan can be reached at tjan@globe.com.
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