Emboldened and under fresh attack: Gingrich's next 48 hours

The Globe and Mail

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks at a campaign stop at La Chiesa Restaurant in Spencer, Iowa, on Wednesday. (Jim Young/Reuters/Jim Young/Reuters)

Newt Gingrich has reasons to both smile and grimace less than 48 hours before the South Carolina primary, the contest which the former congressman and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has always said is key to his bid to lead the Republican party.

He can smile at news that Texas Governor Rick Perry is dropping out of the race and will likely endorse his candidacy. And he can grimace over a reported broadcast on Thursday night by a U.S. network TV channel of an interview with his ex-wife, who claims Mr. Gingrich sought an "open marriage" arrangement with his wife and mistress.

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The winnowing of the GOP field with Mr. Perry dropping out also presents Mr. Gingrich with an opportunity.

Grabbing the 4 or 5 per cent Perry vote in South Carolina may prove pivotal in Mr. Gingrich’s campaign because new polls show that the margin between Mr. Gingrich and front-runner Mitt Romney has narrowed – with some commentators suggesting he is now within striking distance.

A POLITICO poll shows Mr. Romney has 37 per cent support among Republican voters with Mr. Gingrich at 30 per cent.

Heading into South Carolina after his convincing win in New Hampshire on January 10, Mr. Romney enjoyed doubt-digit leads over the rest of the GOP field. But that margin is quickly tightening between him and Mr. Gingrich ahead of Saturday’s primary.

A NBC News/Marist poll gives in interesting glimpse into the turning point in Mr. Gingrich’s South Carolina campaign after losses in Iowa and New Hampshire: polling on Monday shows Mr. Gingrich trailing by 10 points; polling a day later, after his strong performance in Monday night’s debate, show Mr. Gingrich trailing by just 5 points.

The turning point for Mr. Gingrich was Monday night’s candidates debate and his ability to connect with, and electrify, the audience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

When asked by one of the FOX TV moderators whether he could see how demeaning it was to call President Barack Obama a “food stamp president,” Mr. Gingrich delivered one of the most-applauded lines of the evening.

“The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history,” Mr. Gingrich answered. “I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”

His answer resonated with the audience and on Twitter, which did an interesting analysis of tweets on Monday night’s debate.

The biggest spike in favorable tweets happened around Mr. Gingrich’s answer on the “food stamps” question.

And the Gingrich campaign knows how key that debate moment was. Its latest ad is a best-of-Newt from that debate performance.

Mr. Gingrich will be looking to deliver another strong debate performance when CNN hosts a candidates debate in Charleston, South Carolina, Thursday night.

Which leads us to the reason Mr. Gingrich is probably grimacing this morning: ABC News is to air an interview with his second wife on Thursday evening, on the same night the candidates debate and just two days before South Carolinians go to the polls.

Mr. Gingrich’s bitter divorce in 1999 from Marianne Gingrich, his wife of 18 years, has been the focus of previous unflattering interviews.

In a 2010 interview with Esquire magazine, Marianne Gingrich claims that Mr. Gingrich asked his current wife to marry him before asking Ms. Gingrich for a divorce.

The divorce happened after revelations that Mr. Gingrich had been having an affair with congressional aide Callista Bisek, who is now his third wife.

In the ABC News interview excerpt posted to its web site today, Ms. Gingrich claims that her ex-husband asked for an "open marriage" arrangement

Other revelations made by Ms. Gingrich to ABC News: claims that Mr. Gingrich conducted his affair with Callista Bisek in their Washington D.C. apartment.

"He always called me at night," she tells ABC News, "and always ended with 'I love you.' Well, she was listening."

As Mr. Gingrich’s critics are quick to point out, the affair took place as he was pillorying President Bill Clinton for his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky in the late 1990s.

Follow on Twitter: @affanchowdhry

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