BEAUFORT, S.C. — Newt Gingrich abruptly ended a news conference Thursday when pressed on his extramarital affairs.
“I’m not going to say anything about Marianne,” Gingrich said with an edge to his voice as he was pressed with questions about an explosive interview his ex-wife Marianne Gingrich has given to ABC. Marianne Gingrich claimed her former husband asked her for an “open marriage” so he could continue a romantic involvement with a congressional aide who eventually became his third wife, Callista Gingrich.
“It’s an issue I confront every time it comes up, and I confront it exactly the same way it comes up — and the people seem to be satisfied by it,” Gingrich said when asked by a reporter if he thought he needed to further address the matter.
“I just answered you — that’s my answer,” he responded testily before trying to move on to the endorsement his campaign received Thursday from Rick Perry, who bowed out of the race.
“I want to thank all of you for being here, I’m delighted Gov. Perry endorsed me and I look forward to tonight at the debate,” he said before walking off quickly.
Gingrich is rising in polls in South Carolina, but his surge could be threatened by the interview his second wife gave to ABC News. The network Thursday released a partial transcript of her remarks, which overshadowed news of Perry’s decision to quit the race.
Marianne Gingrich’s interview is scheduled to air Thursday night on ABC, but the early release of the transcript makes it likely to come up at the presidential debate that same night.
Gingrich noted that his daughters have complained to ABC that showing the interview is “tawdry and inappropriate.”
“Both of my daughters are prepared to speak on the record to anyone who’d like to talk to them,” he said. “Several other people who knew the situation are prepared to speak on the record. I’m not getting involved.”
At a barbeque and rally in Walterboro, S.C. later in the afternoon, Gingrich and Callista were joined by one of his daughters, a grandson, brother and sister. The show of force seemed designed to encourage the perception that Gingrich is a family man.
At the event, Gingrich took a shot at the media for digging into his past.
"We knew the news media would be as destructive as it could be. And so, we had to raise the question, ‘do we really want to go through that?” he said, claiming it had taken him and his family a year to decide he would run for president.
Gingrich has shown signs of momentum in South Carolina, which will hold its primary Saturday, before the interview broke. He had a strong performance in Monday’s debate, his events had drawn big crowds and Romney’s campaign gave indications it was worried.
It’s unclear what, if any, immediate effect the interview will have on the primary. The influential Drudge Report website first reported its existence and has been touting the story for the past 24 hours. The Washington Post released its own interview with Marianne Gingrich, and her charges have dominated most of Thursday’s news cycle.
Earlier in the day, the Romney campaign held a press call to attack Gingrich, but it focused on his record as House Speaker, not on his marriages.
Hosted by former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (R) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the Romney surrogates blasted Gingrich for his ethics violations while House Speaker, the government shutdown under his watch and his long history as a Washington insider.
“We had … well over 218 Republicans in the Congress when Newt was the Speaker, and you can’t find more than a handful who will come to his defense,” King said. “And it has nothing to do with ideology, nothing to do with philosophy. It’s all the erratic, self-serving narcissism of Newt.”
Sununu said Democrats are “laughing with glee behind closed doors” at the prospect of a Gingrich nomination.
He warned that Gingrich has so much baggage, including the ethics violations for which he was fined $300,000, that an “October surprise” during the 2012 election would be inevitable.
“There was a 7-to-1 vote in that Ethics Committee, which means the material was pretty convincing, even to the four Republicans, three of which voted against him,” Sununu said. “I think it reflects on his reliability as a leader and, frankly, reflects on the fact that [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi was part of that process, and whatever Congresswoman Pelosi knows, President Obama knows.
“And if Pelosi knows, Obama knows. And if Obama knows, this is certainly a ripe package for an October surprise.”
Pelosi served on the Ethics Committee that investigated Gingrich for tax cheating and campaign finance violations in the late 1990s.
She told Talking Points Memo in early December that she will reveal information about him when the time is right.
More from The Hill
♦ Daschle calls recess sessions 'bogus,' defends Obama
♦ Perry struggled to live up to early promise in campaign
♦ GOP lawmaker cautions against harsh punishment for Marines
♦ Santorum touts Iowa win as sign right will rally to him
♦ Issa subpoenas top DOJ official in probe of 'Fast and Furious'
♦ States enact near-record number of abortion restrictions
♦ First Dem reverses course on piracy bill
♦ Sebelius rallies Obama's healthcare base
♦ Dems propose 'Reasonable Profits Board' to regulate oil profits
Gingrich also was confronted over his extramarital affairs at a campaign rally late Thursday morning, asked by a man who called him a “very inspiring” candidate how he would explain his “lapses in judgment” to voters.
In that response, Gingrich emphasized his closeness to his daughters and the fact that he is a grandfather.
“I’ve been very open about my life,” he said. “I’ve been very open about the mistakes that I have made. I was very open about needing to go to God for forgiveness and seeking reconciliation. Callista and I have a wonderful relationship, we are very close to our two daughters and their husbands. We’re very close to our two grandchildren, Maggie and Robert.”
The former Speaker did get some good news earlier in the day when Rick Perry endorsed him after exiting the GOP race.
“Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?” the Texas governor said.
At the beginning of the press availability Thursday, Gingrich touted his endorsement from Perry and said he feels confident he can win in South Carolina and become the eventual nominee.
“When this becomes a two-person race, then Romney has a huge problem because he’s too liberal for most Republican voters,” Gingrich said. “Gov. Perry helped today. We are going to do everything we can in the next 72 hours to win here, and I think we have a real chance to win.”
Gingrich also has called on Rick Santorum to exit the presidential race and endorse his candidacy.
— Jonathan Easley contributed.
This story was updated at 3:35 p.m.