Turnout Steady, and backing Gingrich, In Greenville County
Gingrich appears to be surging at the right time.
Some precincts in the Upstate had already surged past expected turnout totals by midway Saturday during the Republican Presidential Preference Primary while others experienced a slow and steady pace amid heavy rains.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich appears to have peaked at the right time at least in Upstate South Carolina, where most of the voters randomly selected for interviews by Patch said they they had voted for Gingrich. Gingrich has also surged ahead of former frontrunner Mitt Romney in several recent polls.
"I feel like it's going to take somebody strong and really been there, and knows that he's doing to be able to handle what the Democrats are going to throw at him," Taylors voter Mike James said early Saturday morning.
Gingrich stepped up his attacks against Romney in the Upstate by 8 a.m. Saturday, when he called the Romney campaign "arrogant," during a stop at the Grapevine Restaurant in Spartanburg. It was that straightforwardness that has also been on display during the presidential debates that has endeared him to some voters, like Taylors resident Alice Norsworthy.
"He doesn't sugarcoat it," Norsworthy said. "And I'm really tired of having things sugarcoated."
Meanwhile, despite periods of heavy rain in the Upstate, voter turnout seemed to be mostly steady. At the Mission precinct on Pelham Road, turnout had already surpassed 31 percent by 1 p.m.
At Greenville 1 precinct in the Wade Hampton area of Greenville, turnout had approached 20 percent by noon. Meanwhile, at the Avon precinct on Edwards Road in Taylors, the turnout had likewise already surpassed 20 percent by lunchtime.
Conway Belangia, Greenville County's elections and registration director, said he anticipated a countywide turnout topping 30 percent, and getting no higher than 40 percent.
Brent Nelsen, political expert from Furman University, stopped by Tommy's Ham House on Saturday morning in Greenville, where the restaurant was swarmed by both Romney and Gingrich supporters since it had been double-booked by both candidates.
"Newt's definitely surging," Nelsen said, but said that despite some polls suggesting a widening margin, it would likely be close, predicting that Gingrich was "quite likely to squeak out a narrow victory in South Carolina."
Joel Corley, a voter at the Greenville 1 precinct, said at the polling place at League Academy that he'd been waiting on Gingrich to throw name into presidential consideration for more than a decade.
And John Lassiter, a Greer resident said that despite the former Speaker's heavy baggage of marital infidelity, he remained the best candidate.
"There are things about him I'm not very fond of," Lassiter said. "But his stances are just more in line with mine."
And while some questioned what effect ABC's interview with Marianna Gingrich, the former speaker's second wife may have, the media scrutiny may have very well galvanized conservatives in the Upstate instead of turned them off.
James, speaking at the Mountain Creek Baptist Church polling place in Taylors, said Gingrich's reaction to the interview being brought up at the CNN debate on Thursday scored major points.
"I think he probably reflects how most people feel about all this stuff," James said.
Meanwhile, Bryan Lewis, voting on Pelham Road said Gingrich's command of history and the issues made him superior to Romney, despite his personal baggage.
The Upstate has long been a critical block of the South Carolina electorate. On election night in 2010, Nikki Haley was down early to Democratic challenger Vincent Sheheen before the Upstate conservative vote propelled her to victory in the late stages of the gubernatorial contest.
In 2008, when John McCain won the South Carolina primary with 33 percent of the vote, Greenville and Spartanburg Counties proved to be crucial, accounting for 20 percent of the total statewide votes in the two counties alone.
Polls close statewide at 7 p.m. Stay tuned to South Carolina Patch sites for the results and reaction, and check out Patch's live blog on the primary.