Gingrich was asked to speak about a time his mother affected him at the event sponsored by CafeMom, a social networking website for mothers.
"You'll get me all teary-eyed — Callista will tell you, I get teary-eyed every time we sing Christmas carols. My mother sang in the choir and loved singing in the choir," Gingrich said, referring to his wife, as he fought back tears.
The audience sympathetically cheered for Gingrich as he spoke about his mother.
"I do policy much easier than I do personal," Gingrich joked.
Prodded by Republican pollster Frank Luntz as to how his mother would react if she was at the event Friday, Gingrich said she would have been working the crowd.
"She'd be talking to all these people, and she'd be telling them how nice I was," Gingrich said to laughter.
Gingrich has been in the midst of a hard-fought battle for the Iowa caucuses that appears likely to end in disappointment. The former Speaker once topped polls in the state, but is now a long shot in the caucuses following a barrage of blistering attack ads from rivals.
In what has become a typical exchange on the campaign trail, Gingrich was asked earlier in the forum about his marital history, which includes a pair of divorces and admitted infidelity.
"I would say I'm a sadder and slower person than 20 years ago," Gingrich said. "I've learned a lot of limitations of life."
Gingrich was pressed by Luntz as to whether he has reached out to his ex-wives.
"I've talked to them. I've tried to express my sadness to them," Gingrich said.
The moment was reminiscent of a 2008 campaign stop by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who teared up when asked about the trials of the campaign trail by a New Hampshire voter.
"It's not easy, and I couldn't do it if I just didn't, you know, passionately believe it was the right thing to do," Clinton said, with her voice cracking. "You know, I have so many opportunities from this country, I just don't want to see us fall backwards."
Clinton went on to a surprise win in the Granite State, although ultimately lost the nomination to then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.