(Photo: REUTERS/Chris Keane)
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who recently rose to be a front-runner with Mitt Romney as his rival, chose a church as the first stop of his three-day campaign swing through South Carolina, where about 40 percent of the voters are evangelicals.
He reportedly met with 50 people at Faith Assembly of God in Summerville on Monday. The meeting was closed to the media but one participant later said the participating Christians, many of them pastors, asked Gingrich about his faith and his pro-life record.
“They asked how does God influence, how does your religion influence your decisions,” a supporter, Dana Bertoluzzi, was quoted by CNN as saying. “And he said that is very important to him, that faith is very important.”
The pastors also wanted to have clarity on the former House Speaker’s stand on abortion as he has stated that he supports abortion in the cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother. “I don’t think he wants to make that his primary objective in his campaign because we’re trying to fix the nation here,” Bertoluzzi said. “But it’s true that if you’re a conservative, you are generally pro-life and that is his position.”
Gingrich was not asked about his three marriages and extramarital affair, the supporter said.
Later on Monday, Gingrich targeted Romney saying he was more conservative than the former Massachusetts governor. “I don’t claim to be the perfect candidate, I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney,” Gingrich told WSC Radio in Charleston.
“We think there has to be a solid conservative alternative to Mitt Romney … I’m the one candidate who can bring together national security conservatives and economic conservatives and social conservatives in order to make sure we have a conservative nominee.”
Gingrich added, “No person except Christ has ever been perfect,” noting he didn’t claim to be the perfect candidate. “I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney and a lot more electable than anybody else.”
However, Gingrich empathized with presidential candidate Herman Cain. He told CBS News’ Nancy Cordes Tuesday that accusations of sexual harassment and an extra-marital affair did not disqualify the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO as a candidate.
Gingrich has said he is an honest candidate. Alluding to his three marriages and an extramarital affair, his campaign says, “Newt has been honest and forthright about the fact that he has had moments in his life that he regrets, that he has had to seek reconciliation, and go to God for forgiveness.”
With his recent spike in the polls, Gingrich believes the increase in support is not a fad. “I think in my case, because I rose based on substance, it’s a different phenomena,” he said Tuesday at the opening of his Beaufort County field office, according to CNN. “It took longer; it was slower. And I think people are more deeply committed.”
South Carolina is the first southern primary state, which follows Iowa and New Hampshire on the Republican primary calendar.