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Voters say debates helped make up their minds at the last minute, just as Gingrich hit his stride.
In a sign that former speaker Newt Gingrich’s lead solidified in the final moments, early exit early show that about half of South Carolina voters chose their candidate just days before the vote, according to The New York Times. (In 2008, only about a third of voters were late deciders.)
Showing that undecideds broke for Gingrich, the results also indicate that voters were making up their minds just as the former House speaker from Georgia was winning plaudits for his performance in debates and his main rival Mitt Romney, was suffering attacks for his wealth and failure to disclose his tax returns.
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Though polls have yet to close, early results say Mr. Gingrich is faring well in the rural and more conservative northern regions of South Carolina, according to The Times.
CBS News reports that nearly two of three voters in the Palmetto State say the recent Republican debates, in which Gingrich was seen as performing well, were important in helping them decide on whom to vote for.
CBS also said voters were naming the economy as their most important concern, with 78 percent saying they were “very" worried for the nation’s return to prosperity.
Asking which candidate ran the most unfair campaign, 30 percent pointed to Romney, 26 to Gingrich and 14 percent to Texas Congressman Ron Paul, according to CBS.
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The New York Times also reported that the exit polls showed that virtually all primary voters were white, three quarters were 45 or older and fewer than half had college degrees. Fewer than one in five identified themselves as Democrats.
Full exit polls are expected to be released at 7 pm local time, when the polls close.