Gingrich faces tough questions at SC campaign event with black church

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich faced a round of tough questions in a campaign event before an African-American church in South Carolina on Saturday.

Gingrich spoke with members of the Jones Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Columbia, S.C. for an hour according to media reports.

Many of the questions focused on a statement from the former House Speaker in December that "really poor children" have bad work habits, a remark which attracted criticism from civil rights groups.

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“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday,” Gingrich had said at a campaign event.

He subsequently claimed that his comments had been misrepresented and that he had "been talking a little bit about the importance of work, particularly as it relates to people who are in areas where there are -- in public housing, et cetera, where there are relatively few people who go to work."

On Saturday though, many members of the congregation called on him to explain those remarks.

"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," Gingrich said.

When asked if he stood by statements that President Obama was a "food stamp president," a line he has used often in campaign stump speeches, Gingrich responded "yes."

Gingrich has often referred to Obama as "the best food stamp president" adding that if elected he would "like to be the best paycheck president in American history."

Reports said Gingrich pledged a "very serious outreach to Democrats" if president.

Gingrich's effort to woo African-American voters, his only campaign event in South Carolina on Saturday, may do little though to boost his standing in the Palmetto state, one week ahead of its GOP primary. 

Black voters form only a small portion of the GOP electorate and a recent poll shows Gingrich in second place behind frontrunner Mitt Romney.

The Public Policy Poll released Friday shows Romney at 29 percent down one point from a previous poll with Gingrich at 24 percent support.  Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 15 percent, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 14 percent, Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) at 6 percent, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 5 percent and former Gov. Buddy Roemer (La.) round out the GOP field.