- (Reuters/Brian C. Frank)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was the darling of the conservative movement in the mid-90s when he framed the Contract With America. Notwithstanding his past fiscal accomplishments, Republican primary voters are now examining his personal life, including his past marital indiscretions, to evaluate if he is the right man to fight for pro-family values from the White House.
Gingrich appeared on Fox News “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday and expressed regret over some of his past actions.
“I’m very open about the fact that I’ve had moments in my life that I regret,” said Gingrich. “I’ve indicated that I’ve had to go to God and ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation.”
When Gingrich was first elected to Congress in 1978, he was married to his first wife, Jackie Battley, who was also his former high school geometry teacher. Gingrich left Battley within a year and a half into his first term. Despite various accounts, Gingrich denies that he asked his second wife to marry him while his first wife was battling cancer. Gingrich and Battley soon divorced and he continued to climb the GOP leadership ladder in Congress.
During his marriage to his second wife, Marianne Ginther, and while he was Speaker of the House, Gingrich began an affair with a young committee staffer by the name of Callista Bisek, who is 23 years his junior and his current wife.
Although Gingrich was a Southern Baptist in his early adult years, he converted to Catholicism in 2009 in order to worship with Callista.
“Over the course of several years, I gradually became Catholic and then decided one day to accept the faith I had already come to embrace,” said Gingrich in an interview with Politico in May.
This coming Saturday, Gingrich is expected to face a litany of questions from conservative voters at the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines, Iowa. The Thanksgiving Family Forum is being hosted by The Family Leader, Focus on the Family affiliate CitizenLink and the National Organization for Marriage.
In the run-up to the Iowa event with values voters, a group calling themselves Iowans for Christian Leaders in Government, which has no website and is unknown to Iowa political leaders, has been leaving fliers in public places with messages such as, “If Newt Gingrich can’t be faithful to his wife, how can we trust him to be faithful to conservative voters?” and “Is nothing sacred to Newt?”
Amid pushback from this unidentified Iowa conservative group, Gingrich’s poll numbers have continued to rise, especially after allegations of sexual harassment have surfaced against fellow Georgian and Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain.
In a Bloomberg poll released Monday, Gingrich got a respectful 17 percent from likely Republican voters in Iowa, trailing Cain and Romney, who had 20 and 19 percent, respectively.
But half of those Iowa voters said in the same poll that they would most likely rule out a candidate who has been married three times and had an extramarital affair – Gingrich is the only GOP candidate who fits that profile.
Yet some voters are able to look past his marital unfaithfulness.
Tom Anderson, a retired union carpenter and Gingrich supporter, told Bloomberg News, “He’s a smart guy and a problem-solver and that’s why I’m supporting him.”
The Thanksgiving Family Forum will be held at First Federated Church in Des Moines on Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. CST. Other GOP presidential candidates who will also be in attendance are Atlanta businessman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minnesota) Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) and former Senator Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania).
Romney declined the invitation to attend the event. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was not invited because his poll numbers were too low.