Dispatches from South Carolina

Mitt Romney at the Ham House in South Carolina.

ABC7's Kris Van Cleave is in South Carolina covering the primary. Read his up-to-date dispatches here.

8:18 p.m.: Wow. That was fast. The moments the polls closed the Networks called South Carolina for Newt Gingrich.

CNN Exit polls have Gingrich at 38% Romney 29%.

Just stopped by the Newt HQ, really long line at the bar, but that place will be a party tonight!

Curious to see the tone at the Romney camp. They'd been bracing for a loss after a rough week of faltering debate performances. Headed there now.

6:22 p.m.: SC Primary by the numbers from the South Carolina GOP

4: Number of Presidential debates held in South Carolina (Greenville, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach and Charleston)

$20,000,000: Estimated direct economic impact due to the Presidential Primary, much of which was generated by out of state dollars. Television ads, debates, hotel rooms, staff hires, gasoline, mail pieces, etc. contribute to this number.

$10,000,000: Estimated positive earned media impact from televised debates and other events

450,000: Number of estimated voters on January 21

9: Number of candidates on the ballot in South Carolina (deadline for name removal was December 1, 2011) Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Rick Perry

33%: Statewide percentage won by John McCain, the winner in 2008

20%: The combined percentage of statewide votes found in Greenville and Spartanburg Counties

65%: The combined percentage of statewide votes found in ten critical counties

5:28 p.m.: We’ll be talking with you at 6pm on ABC7 News, just an hour before the polls close on the Palmetto Primary here in South Carolina. After making a final push the candidates are settling in for their ‘Victory’ parties—Gingrich, Romney, and Paul are in the state Capitol of Columbia, Santorum in Charleston.

Based on the polls out today, Romney is no longer the front runner. Gingrich has the momentum and could surge to a win, granted it will come down to what the undecided voters think (and to an extent who they are—Newt has never done well with women voters, but evangelicals may favor him over Romney). Another factor will be what kind of player will Rick Santorum be tonight? If he does well and takes votes from Gingrich, Romney could eke it out. Then again, if the latest poll showing Gingrich up as much as 14% is spot on, we’ll take this show to Florida with the primary wins divided among three.

I think there was some disappointment (at least among the media) that the food fight ham house showdown didn’t quite happen this morning in Greenville, but it’s been a thrilling day to cap a pretty amazing three days. Thursday was a true Game Change moment, and in the span of a few days a candidate seen by many as lumbering to the nomination has taken a stumble.

The state GOP expects county results to start coming in around 7:30p, and statewide results after 9pm. Sadly we’ll miss their dinner service---happening right now. Sad face.

Politico has a great read on the 5 things to watch from South Carolina tonight—it’s worth checking out.

We’ll be following the latest from here and have it at 6pm, 11pm, and 11:30pm on ABC7 News.

12:48 p.m.: I interviewed Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. He came down yesterday to campaign with Mitt Romney after endorsing the former Governor.

He acknowledges the campaign will be a slow slog but is convinced Romney will be the nominee.

The governor said he will consider any bills changing the primary process in the Commonwealth but not making changes midstream to allow those who did not qualify to be on the ballot.

He added that if you're running for President, 10,000 signatures should be doable, pointing out, "I've done it twice."

Watch more from my interview with Gov.McDonnell on ABC7 News at 6 p.m.

9:55 a.m.: We've confirmed with Mitt Romney's staff that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is here campaigning with Romney today.

Tommy's Country Ham House is reaching circus status more than an hour before the two candidates are scheduled to arrive. People are eating standing up and the media is redecorating/removing pots of fake plastic flowers hanging from the ceiling.

It's a packed house and the sweet potato pancakes smell great. So far I see a lot more Romney signs than Gingrich, but its early and the Romney folks are aggressively handing them out.

Fox's Carl Cameron is being received like a celebrity, but CNN is on the TVs.

Politico playbook this morning notes the final Public Policy Polling tracking poll has a 9-point Newt Gingrich lead.

“Gingrich lead expands on final night … Gingrich heads into South Carolina election day as the clear front runner: he's polling at 37% to 28% for Mitt Romney, 16% for Rick Santorum, and 14% for Ron Paul. Gingrich's lead has actually increased in the wake of his ex-wife's controversial interview with ABC."

8:57 a.m.: The polls are open and it's in the hands of South Carolina voters. Still the candidates have a full schedule of appearances. By all accounts it will be close. Two polls now show former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with a 6 point lead over the once seemingly untouchable Romney. The former Governor and his staff spent much of Friday trying to manage expectations.

"I don't know what the numbers will be," Romney told reporters in Charleston, S.C. yesterday. "I'm pretty confident, cautiously optimistic."

At a rally in Orangeburg, Gingrich told a crowd that overflowed into a second room, "We're going to take the first big step toward ensuring that a conservative is nominated for president of the United States."

Santorum meanwhile has faded in the polls but is pledging to stay in and has events on the schedule for Sunday in Florida. Yesterday he compared the primary to survivor: "just don't get voted off the island, and that's what we're trying to do."

Dozens of voters are gathering outside Romney's Greenville campaign office. It will be his first stop of the day and comes just two hours before he and Gingrich are supposed to both be at Tommy's Ham House. As you can imagine, we will be there to watch what happens.

A lone Gingrich supporter here says he switched camps after Monday's debate. "A lot of people think [Newt's] an S.O.B., he's my S.O.B. "

So far that's our quote of the day.