01/21/2012 11:01 pm ET

S.C. Election Results: Voters Made Up Their Minds In Final Days, Exit Polls Show

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was named the projected winner of the South Carolina primary within moments of polls closing in the state Saturday. In the latest sign that the former speaker of the House's large margin of victory was a result of explosive last-minute momentum, exit polls show that many Palmetto State voters hadn't made up their minds until this week.

The Associated Press reports:

A majority of South Carolina Republican voters said they decided on a candidate in the last few days, and they favored Gingrich by a double-digit margin. Santorum and Romney were about even for second among this group.

Polling largely reflected the rapid shift in South Carolina toward Gingrich over the past week. Two polls released Saturday morning suggested that he might be in for a big win, following a huge week for Gingrich in which he berated two GOP debate moderators to roaring applause from the crowd and fought back accusations by his ex-wife that he once pressed her to have an open marriage.

Other exit polls appeared to reinforce the importance of Gingrich's recent showings at the debates.

ABC News reports:

Exit polls from the state show that the two-thirds of voters who said the debates were important picked Gingrich over front-running Mitt Romney 50 percent to 22 percent.

Reactions from South Carolina voters to Gingrich's debate skill ranged from them being happy that he put Fox News' Juan Williams "in his place" to them believing that he had proven he was best-prepared to go head-to-head against President Obama.