NORTH CHARLESTON — The night belonged to hard-hitting Newt Gingrich and underdog Rick Santorum during the last debate before the South Carolina primary, according to audience members leaving the event Thursday evening.
While all four candidates faired well, many debate-goers said Gingrich and Santorum stole the show
And then there was Ron Paul who surprised a few people like Tricia Boccabello of Charleston.
"I think Ron Paul did better than I expected him to," Boccabello said. "He actually came across as being pretty cogent."
Debbie Jones of Isle of Palms, a former supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's bid for president, also seemed swayed by Paul's debate performance.
"I'm surprised that I liked some of the things Dr. Ron Paul said," Jones said. "He seemed that he would take the country in the opposite direction."
She added that the other candidates seemed "middle of the road." She said she's currently undecided, but her vote will go to either Paul or Santorum.
Jones decided against Gingrich due to a compilation video on Youtube. In the video, Jones said the former Speaker praised Franklin D. Roosevelt. And, she decided against Romney because he's "too slick and not conservative enough."
Santorum's performance was strong enough to woo a few voters in the audience.
"Santorum … he really did improve in this one," said Chase Limehouse of Charleston, son of state Rep. Chip Limehouse. "I could see that he was a stronger speaker. In this one, he really stepped it up."
Two people in the anybody-but-Mitt camp were Mike and Abby Russo of Charleston, both undecided voters.
"I think he did pretty well, but I don't care to vote for him," Mike Russo said. "I was happy with all of them. I think better of all of them after hearing them tonight. I don't necessarily think there was a winner."
Russo said Gingrich had the highlight of the night.
"I like the way Gingrich put (CNN moderator John) King down. The beginning of the debate was just the first example," Russo said.
Danny Hyler of Florence liked how Gingrich handled the recent negative press.
"Newt came out, and he stated some positions and he clarified some positions that had been muddled in the news," Hyler said. "He talks about his experience, and that's what makes me more comfortable giving him my vote."