Down to the Wire: Final Four Battle for SC Votes

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CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The political pundits predicted the race for the Republican presidential nomination was over. Now, it's been turned on its head just hours before the first primary in the South.

A new Rasmussen poll shows:

• Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., leading the field of four with 33 percent.
• Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is in second with 31 percent.
• Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas is third with 15 percent.
• Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is in fourth.

But not all the news has been good for Gingrich. An interview with his ex-wife could spell political trouble, and CNN made sure to put it front and center at Thursday night's debate.

Thursday morning, Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race and threw his support behind Gingrich.

"I believe Newt is a conservative visionary," he told a room full of reporters and supporters.

Meanwhile, Santorum was declared the new winner of the Iowa caucuses.

"A little delayed, but most welcomed victory there. Thank you to the people of Iowa," he said.

And Gingrich's second wife told two major news outlets the former speaker doesn't have the moral character to lead the nation.

In the final debate before South Carolina Republicans vote for their party's nominee, Gingrich was asked if he wanted to respond.

"No, but I will," he said. "I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that. Let me be quite clear, the story is false."

Romney and Santorum passed on the opportunity to add anything.

"I thank God for forgiveness," Santorum said, but Paul took a jab at the former speaker.

"I think setting standards is very important and I'm very proud that my wife of 54 years is with me tonight," he said.

As the field narrows and the stakes increase, Santorum used every chance to distinguish himself as the clear conservative.

"I've been fighting for health reform, the private sector, bottom up the way America works best when these two guys were playing footsies with the left," he said.

"If you want to go be the governor of Massachusetts fine. I want to be president and let states take responsibility for their own plans," Romney said.

It was an important exchange between the remaining four candidates, especially for voters who haven't made up their minds.

Observer Michael Tecosky said he still trying to decide who to support. He told CBN News it's between Gingrich or Romney.

"I almost kind of wish I could get a mixture of the two. I want Gingrich's experience, but Mitt's business acumen and maybe a little Ron Paul's passion," he explained.

The indecision among voters is presenting real problems and opportunities for the front runners. And with voters heading to the polls Saturday, there's still no telling who will win this race.

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Jennifer Wishon

CBN News White House Correspondent

Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.