GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (Pic by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons)

Last night’s GOP presidential debate was crucial for the four remaining GOP candidates. Held just two days before the South Carolina primary, it was the last chance to appeal to the state’s conservative voters and, arguably, the event was the most boisterous of any debate thus far.

CNN moderator John King began the debate in a controversial fashion — immediately bringing up an ABC News interview with Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife Marianne, who alleged that her ex-husband had asked her for an “open marriage” while he was having an affair with his eventual third wife.

“She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage,” said King. “Would you like to take some time to respond to that?”

“No. But I will,” said Gingrich, who was met with cheers and applause from the audience.

Though the former Speaker had fielded questions about the allegations throughout the day on Thursday, he went after King (and the news media in general) for bringing it up in a debate, saying he was “astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.”

“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office,” Gingrich said. “And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”

Gingrich went on to say that the story was false, and that he had witnesses to back him up — but ABC wasn’t interested.

King defended his decision to bring up the recent allegations after the debate, saying the decision was his and his alone.

Political analysts have since argued that Gingrich’s response could win him the top spot in the South Carolina primary.

Though Mitt Romney has been leading the pack in recent polls, he stumbled when asked if he would follow in his father’s footsteps, who set a precedent in 1967 when he released several years worth of taxes during his presidential run.

“Maybe,” said Romney. “I don’t know how many years I’ll release. I’ll take a look at what our documents are. And I’ll release multiple years. I don’t know how many years.”

The crowd full of South Carolina voters instantly voiced their disapproval, booing Romney for his answer.

The moment was another good one for Gingrich, who proudly stated that he had released his 2010 tax returns only an hour before the debate began.

The next debate will be held on Mon., Jan. 23, at Tampa’s University of South Florida. Florida’s primary vote will be held on Tues., Jan. 31.

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