Just in time for Martin Luther King Day, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich met with African-American churchgoers Saturday to confront his past racially-tinged comments and become the bridge-building candidate in the Republican race.
Gingrich made a campaign stop at Jones Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Columbia, S.C. During his visit, the former speaker was forced to detour from his usual stump message and explain the meaning behind his “really poor children” statements.
Gingrich told a crowd at a November Iowa appearance that poor children have little knowledge of what it is like to work.
“Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday,” he said.
Gingrich continued, “They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it is illegal.”
At the church, Gingrich walked back his message, saying, "What I was saying was, in the poorest neighborhoods, if we can find a way to help young people earn some money, we might actually be able to keep the dropout rate down and give people an incentive to come to school."
During the meeting, church member Raushanne Thompson stood up and told Gingrich that he is “known throughout the state and throughout the county as a racist and a bigot.”
He denied charges that he said that African-Americans or any other racial group were “ghetto” and “lazy” as Thompson had charged.
“I think everybody who does work has a better chance of getting ahead. And I didn’t reference any particular group. I talked about it across the whole country,” Gingrich defended.
Gingrich, however, stood by his statement that Barack Obama is a “food stamp president.”
The visit was likely a continuation of campaign visits with South Carolina’s faith community. Earlier that week, Gingrich shared his testimony with pastors at North Charleston’s Cathedral of Praise.
African-Americans make up an extremely small portion of South Carolina’s Republican Party.
Gingrich expressed a desire to reach across the aisle as president. According to the Hill, the former House speaker pledged to conduct a “very serious outreach to Democrats” if he is voted into the White House.
“I think we have to find ways to work together to create a better future. I think the more we can do that, the more people in the habit of being on the same team on how to get things done, the better off we are,” he reportedly told the crowd.
Gingrich had previously endorsed conservative grassroots group E. Pluribus Unum’s vision of Republican Outreach to the Hispanic and African-American communities.
Outreach with the minority voter bloc may prove tricky for the former speaker.
His statements on poverty as well as child labor laws as “stupid” have outraged many in the black and Hispanic communities.
New York Times Writer Charles Blow said his words came across as “callous” and untrue. Blow, an African-American, quoted Census Bureau data that three out of four poor adults aged 18 to 64 do in fact work.
Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino Geraldo Rivera called Gingrich’s words “bold but dopey.”