Newt Gingrich
Who is Saul Alinsky? Just ask Newt Gingrich. Reuters

Newt Gingrich has won the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, exit polls said.

The victory means the former House speaker is now a strong contender for the White House among the other GOP hopefuls. The limelight will now shift away from Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who came second in the polls. Gingrich's victory is mainly attributed to his solid performances at the two debates earlier this week.

According to CNN, Gingrich is winning 38 percent of votes, whereas Romney comes second with 29 percent votes. Senator Rick Santorum is getting 17 percent and Ron Paul of Texas bags 15 percent.

The results have thrown up a complicated and volatile pattern with three different Republican hopefuls winning contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The dramatic upset could spark futher debate on Gingrich's controversial past, including his second wife's claim that he had sought an "open marriage" to enable him to keep a mistress.