Newt Gingrich
Newt GingrichIsrael news photo: Newt Gingrich 2012 Official Site

CNN is projecting that Newt Gingrich will win Saturday’s South Carolina GOP presidential primary.

The network’s projection is based in part on exit polls and early returns after polling places closed. According to exit polls, Gingrich received 38 percent of the votes, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney received 29 percent and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum won 17 percent. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 15 percent.

A win by Gingrich would mark the first time since 1980 that three different GOP candidates won nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Romney was initially declared the winner in Iowa, but earlier this week it was announced that Santorum was the winner in that primary.

Just ten days ago, Romney won the New Hampshire primary with 35% of the votes. Analysts said the New Hampshire win gave Romney a shot at clinching South Carolina as well.

The campaign trail leads to Florida next, which votes on January 31. CNN reported that Romney has held a large lead in polls of likely primary voters but recent polls show the race tightening a bit there as well.