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As South Carolina Polls Close, FNC, NBC Declare Newt Gingrich Winner; CNN Waits

At 7pmET as the polls in South Carolina closed, Fox News and MSNBC returned from a commercial break and made the call that Newt Gingrich had won the primary there. On CNN, no call was made despite exit polls showing Gingrich in the lead. “We want to make sure that those exit polls (38% for Gingrich, 29% for Romney) are accurate, so we’re not ready to project a winner,” said Wolf Blitzer around 7:02pm. “But it looks like a very good night for Newt Gingrich.”

“It’s more important to be right, than first,” Blitzer added around 7:09pm.

Brian Williams on NBC, Diane Sawyer and David Muir on ABC and Scott Pelley on CBS anchored special reports. While ABC also projected Gingrich the winner, CBS estimated a Gingrich lead at the time of the 7pmET updates.

With Gingrich winning South Carolina, three different GOP candidates have taken the first three contests. Earlier today, the Iowa republican party declared Rick Santorum the winner there, and Mitt Romney took New Hampshire January 10.

> Update: CNN projects Gingrich the winner at 7:34pmET. Mark Preston, CNN’s political director pulled back the curtain telling Anderson Cooper why the call was made 34 minutes after other networks: “We got enough of the raw vote in, the real vote that people cast. We focused on the counties we thought Newt Gingrich would do well in. We put this formula together, our exit poll team — which is our pollster, and our political folks — crunch it together, that’s how we get it.”

> More: FBN’s Neil Cavuto was on the phone with Gingrich at 7pm as he was declared winner by Fox: “You have won South Carolina. We are calling this race for you. So congratulations there, sir.” “Wow. Thank you,” said Gingrich. (Video after the jump)

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