- (Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
Ever since Newt Gingrich's victory in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21, some analysts have been trying to come up with reasons for his surprising win and hike in support amongst believers. Some are now suggesting that because he has clear flaws and has sought forgiveness for them, that he is a more palatable option for some voters.
"Evangelicals recognize brokenness in people," said Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. It means "a person is in need of God," he added.
So does Gingrich's more public show for forgiveness make him a candidate that evangelicals can relate better to?
The former House speaker has had an interesting relationship with evangelicals – his personal life has been the subject of much debate, and many have questioned if someone who has had three different marriages and has left his wife for a mistress on two occasions could make a good president.
Pastor Cary Gordon from Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, Iowa even, compared the GOP candidate to Kim Kardashian for his treatment of marriage, and said that Gingrich "trades wives like used cars."
However, an article by the Boston Globe is suggesting that it might be those very issues – and Gingrich's desire to seek forgiveness that is making him stand out from the other candidates, such as frontrunner Mitt Romney, whom some are saying might be "too perfect."
"Evangelicals recognize brokenness in people and they like it because that means a person is in need of God,'' Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College shared.
"Mitt Romney is too perfect,'' he added, revealing that such a morally perfect image might make some evangelicals uncomfortable and reluctant to vote for him.
Gingrich has been reluctant to make his two failed marriages a focus of his presidential campaign, and even attacked John King, the moderator of last Thursday's CNN GOP presidential debate for asking him about allegations from his ex-wife that he had requested an "open" marriage.
However, Gingrich, who became a Catholic after marrying his third wife, has also reminded on numerous occasions that everyone sins and makes mistakes, which might be why many evangelicals are seeing him as a real, flawed candidate who has repented and grown from his mistakes.
"I have not hidden from the facts of my life, that I have confessed my weaknesses, and that I have had to go to God for forgiveness and for reconciliation. . . . So, I think in that sense, it may make me more normal than somebody who wanders around seeming perfect and maybe not understanding the human condition,'' Gingrich said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
"There is nothing an evangelical likes more than a penitent sinner and Newt's been pretty penitent,'' explained Oran Smith, president and chief executive of Palmetto Family, a South Carolina-based evangelical organization that studies public-policy issues.
"There is a sense that we are pinned down at the beach in Normandy and we are going to find out if we are going to live or die and the personal characteristics of the general are just not that important right now,'' he continued, adding that forgiveness is an important element for many evangelicals.
Gingrich has even been compared by conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace to King David from the Bible, who also committed adultery and sunk to great lows, but God forgave him and allowed him to remain king.
According to a recent poll, Gingrich faces an uphill battle to win the vote in Florida today, even if Republican presidential candidate rival and fellow Catholic Rick Santorum dropped out. However, the evangelical vote will still be a crucial factor in many other states, and it remains to be seen if evangelicals will follow South Carolina's lead and turn to Gingrich as their main choice.