Nightly News   |  January 22, 2012

What’s next for the GOP race?

Newt Gingrich’s win in South Carolina has upended Mitt Romney’s position as the presumed Republican front-runner. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports.

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>>> to presidential politics now and the stunning victory by newt gingrich in the south carolina primary . gingrich won by a whopping 12 points over mitt romney , blowing the race for the republican nomination wide open as the candidates head for florida . and that's where we find nbc's peter alexander tonight in orman beach. good evening to you.

>> reporter: lester, good evening to you. it is looking more and more like a two-man race here between mitt romney and newt gingrich . after his dramatic win in south carolina yesterday, today gingrich said he's already raised a million dollars in campaign donations and is aiming to raise a million more for what he describes as the knockout punch. after his triumphant come from behind win, newt gingrich delivered a populous message, insisting his victory was a vindication.

>> we proved here in south carolina that people of power with the right ideas beats big money and with your help, we'll prove it again in florida .

>> reporter: while the resounding defeat upended mitt romney 's position as the presumed front-runner, he said he's prepared for the long haul and without referring to gingrich by name, argued a washington insider can't beat president obama .

>> our party can't be led to victory by someone who also has never owned a business and never run a state.

>> reporter: despite his third place finish, rick santorum says he feels no pressure to drop out.

>> i think people realize that it is mitt romney is now no longer the inevitable.

>> reporter: after romney 's wavering answers about when hes would release his tax returns --

>> maybe. you know, i don't know how many years i'll release.

>> reporter: romney today committed to releasing both his 2010 returns and an estimate for his 2011 returns tuesday.

>> i think we just made a mistake in holding off as long as we did. it was a distraction. we want to get back to the real issues in the campaign.

>> reporter: gingrich says he'll behind to focus on romney 's record as a venture capitalist.

>> questions about the character, the judgment, the record of a presidential candidate is not an attack on business. that's silly.

>> reporter: today, gingrich was on the attack again, defending his role with the federal mortgage housing agency freddie mac .

>> wait a second, david. david, you know better than that. i was not a lobbyist. i was never a lobbyist. i never did any lobbying. don't try to mess these things up. the fact is i wasn't an adviser strategically.

>> reporter: and chris christie , a romney supporter, bluntly criticized gingrich 's career in politics.

>> i think he has embarrassed the party over time , whether he'll do it again in the future, i don't know. but governor romney never has.

>> reporter: and the battle here in florida is already well under way. nearly 200,000 people have already cast their ballots, lester, either by absentee or early voting in this state.

>> peter alexander in florida , thanks.