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As he prepares campaign, Gingrich faces hurdles with religious conservatives
Newt Gingrich on Capitol Hill on Wednesday after addressing a Hispanic prayer breakfast.
May 11th, 2011
02:53 PM ET

As he prepares campaign, Gingrich faces hurdles with religious conservatives

Editor's Note: CNN’s Joe Johns will explore the relationship between Newt Gingrich and social conservatives Thursday on The Situation Room at 5 p.m. ET.

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - How big a stumbling block will Newt Gingrich’s three marriages and admission of an affair pose to his efforts to win so-called values voters?

“It’s a huge hurdle,” said Richard Land, the public policy chief for the Southern Baptist Convention, the county’s largest evangelical denomination.

“I must have asked 500 Southern Baptists about this in individual conversations,” Land said. “Evangelical men are likely to give him the benefit of the doubt. I find an implacable wall of resistance among evangelical women.”

As he announced Wednesday that he'll seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, it's clear that Gingrich is aware of the huge role religious conservatives play in the GOP primaries. But he also knows that his past presents challenges to winning them over.

“In meetings with pastors, the issue always comes up,” said Rick Tyler, Gingrich’s spokesman.

“And he answers it straightforwardly, courageously, without making excuses,” Tyler said. “Once they understand that he, like them, relies on his faith to get him through every day, they can get beyond it and hear his message. It turns out that pastors really are in the business of forgiveness.”

In recent years, Tyler has spearheaded Gingrich’s stepped-up campaign to organize evangelicals and Catholics at the grass roots - and to bring them closer to fiscal conservatives through efforts like the Tea Party movement. Tyler says that campaign will be especially important in early caucus and primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, where evangelicals represent huge voting blocs.

“I’ve been with Newt as he’s met with literally thousands of pastors; he’s made it an ongoing part of our travel agenda,” Tyler said.

On Wednesday morning, hours before he announced his campaign for the presidency via Twitter, Gingrich addressed the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast on Capitol Hill.

In recent years, Gingrich has also made promoting religion in public life a central part of his message. He says a 2002 federal court ruling against reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because of its “under God” clause was a wake-up call.

At a speech to a Texas megachurch in March, Gingrich said that the United States will be a “secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists,” in a matter of generations unless Americans fight back against secularization.

Although religious conservatives are likely to respond to that message, the question for Gingrich is whether they’ll accept the messenger.

Gingrich's first marriage ended after he discussed the details of the divorce with his wife while she was recovering from cancer surgery. He married again in 1981 and was divorced in 2000, when he married the young congressional aide with whom he had had an affair.

Some accused Gingrich of hypocrisy for cheating on his wife around the time the House was impeaching President Bill Clinton for lying about his White House affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Many religious Americans may be apt to forgive him.

“Among evangelicals, the drama of sin and redemption is well understood,” said John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron. “The question is how effectively he can explain that he’s not the same person he was back then.”

Gingrich would not be the first presidential candidate to overcome doubts among religious conservatives because of perceived personal transgressions.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan became the first divorced person to win the White House, with lots of help from evangelicals who’d supported Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist, four years earlier.

“Newt simply needs to address the past in an authentic way that makes it clear he is a changed man,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “and I believe the overwhelming majority of social conservative voters will be fair-minded and forgiving.

“Most important, he needs to talk about how he has found peace and meaning through a personal relationship with Christ, that his marriage has never been stronger and that he has never been closer to his children and grandchildren,” said Reed, who once led the Christian Coalition.

Gingrich has apologized for his past behavior in interviews and usually appears in public with his wife, Callista. Gingrich has also spoken about how Callista helped lead him to convert from Protestantism to Catholicism in 2009.

“What evangelicals see in that (conversion) story is God at work,” Tyler said. “He went to Mass with Callista as a supportive spouse, and evangelicals have told me they think that’s right where God wanted him. Over time, it had a powerful effect.”

Still, some top religious conservatives say Gingrich still has a lot of work to do to win the votes of many conservative evangelicals and Catholics. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Land said he told Gingrich late last year that he needs to address his personal behavior in a major address.

“The only chance of clearing this hurdle is to give a major speech in some pro-family forum," Land said, "in which he imagines himself to be sitting directly across from an evangelical woman and convinces them that he deeply regrets his behaviors.

"That he understands how hurtful and destructive it was and that he has apologized to the people involved and is happily married and devoted to his wife," Land continued. "And that, whatever happens, there will be no sexual scandal in the Gingrich White House.”

Land says Gingrich told him he’d think about it.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Newt Gingrich • Politics

soundoff (928 Responses)
  1. geckopelli

    Are there really people America who can't see right through the hypocrite?

    May 11, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  2. Mike

    Dems commenting on morality lol lol newt just did what clinton did but I dont hear any lib complaining and u call newt a hippocrite hahaha typical socialist idiots obama the community organizer stands no chance in a debate with newt... oh yeah and dems who are pro choice have the gull to comment on god please!! how many athiest are dems all of them bunch of hypocrites lol

    May 11, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Mickey

      Get the story straight nuet prosecuted Clinton all the while screwing someone other than his wife. All the time preaching family values!!!

      May 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  3. paintpaintpaint

    Oh, PU-LEEZ let Gingrich run against Obama.... PLEASE!!!!!

    May 11, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • SofGangsta

      I'm hoping for a Gingrich-Duke (as in David) ticket. Then I won't even have to watch the election results come in.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  4. SofGangsta

    Good luck, Lizard.

    (My apologies to all squamate reptiles reading this – I don't mean to imply he is one of you)

    May 11, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  5. WayneH

    OK, what's the guy doing with his nose on the right of the photo?

    May 11, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  6. JFK

    Let's just hope that this is the end of the Boomers+ group and we can move forward. Newt! Just LMFAO.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  7. Nursehope

    Newt": I cheated on my wives because I was over extended being a politician working for my fellow Americans." Seriously? This is Saturday Night Live material! I would cast Al Franken as Newt!

    May 11, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  8. YeahRight

    Newt? Oh hell no. The guy on the right picking his nose? Meh,... possibly.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  9. Mitch

    Is he going to propose another "Contract For America?" He couldn't keep a contract with his wife. Didn't ask her for a divorce while she was in the hospital? Low, real low.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • John N Florida

      August issue, Esquire Magazine, page 5

      "At first, she (Marianne Gingrich, wife #2) had no idea that the wife he was divorcing was actually his high school geometry teacher, or that he went to the hospital to present her with divorce terms while she was recovering from uterine cancer and then fought the case so hard, Jackie had to get a court order just to pay her utility bills. Gingrich told her the story a little at a time, trusting her with things that nobody else knew — to this day, for example, the official story is that he started dating Jackie when he was eighteen and she was twenty-five. But he was really just sixteen, she says."

      Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/newt-gingrich-0910-5#ixzz1M5rh0nL3

      May 11, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  10. Linda

    No surprise that evangelical men cut good ol' boy Newt some slack & evangelical women don't. Is there any man who hasn't cheated on his wife? It's accepted behavior. Why do we continue to act as though we're all aghast? Why do we continue to pretend it makes a difference in who we vote for? Why are we so hypocritical?

    May 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • lisa

      The hypocritical one is Gingrich. He weighs in on "morality issues" all the time thinking that government is best to decide morality for citizens. Check out his website to confirm.

      No thank you. I am in a much better position to decide morality for myself. He and his ilk can stay out of it.

      Newt = Major Hypocrit.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  11. Ivan Bial

    Would you buy a used car from Mr. Gingrich?
    Screw it would you buy a new car from him?

    May 11, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • LAVADA

      car would smell like used condoms and puzzy I suppose

      May 11, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  12. ron

    “Among evangelicals, the drama of sin and redemption is well understood," that is IF the offender is a right-wing Republican. Can you imagine the lack of forgiveness if the perpetrator is a Democrat or a "liberal?"

    May 11, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  13. sosimple

    Donald Chump got a better chance than Puke Gingich.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • kleinaj18

      Donald Duck has a better chance than Donald Trump.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  14. govtsux

    Evil Witch's brew:

    Rat's tail
    Burnt meat
    1 small onion
    Ground ivy
    Eye of Newt Gingrich
    Salt to taste

    May 11, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  15. LAVADA

    republican nominee will be Mitt Romney and Obama will beat him like a rented mule.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Paul

      That was a great comment. I didn't see the second part coming, and I just about spit out my coke, laughing!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • kleinaj18

      Obama is far above Romney.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  16. LAVADA

    This country will never elect a Ugly president.

    Dumb president is OK. Ugly president is never OK.

    Clinton,W and Obama were all the best looking candidates when they ran.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • Meg

      I hope you are kidding, or its true that America has a bad case of the uglies. Obama is one ugly SOB. As far as Clinton, not that great either.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  17. RedeemerDenies

    Sorry Newt. There's no way anyone with any family values or morals will vote for you. Anyone who would run to a court house to dumb their wife while she lays in the hospital fighting cancer just so they could legally marry their mistress is a low life, in just about anyone's play book. Dream on, Republican hypocrite. If you're wise, don't spend any of your own money on this campaign unless its fully tax deductible (oh and I'm sure you won't, being a Republican).

    May 11, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  18. R. U. Kidding

    Gingrich??? Campaign????? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA ...

    May 11, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Paul

      Thank you, I couldn't have said it better myself. This guy is such an amazing jerk!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  19. PRISM 1234

    "Most important, he needs to talk about how he has found peace and meaning through a personal relationship with Christ, that his marriage has never been stronger and that he has never been closer to his children and grandchildren,” said Reed, who once led the Christian Coalition"

    Yeah, words come cheap in circles of politics! They all have their personal coaches to teach them what to say...
    Have seen it all... It's nauseating!

    May 11, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  20. Scott A

    As long as he remains a social conservative (a bigot) and economic conservative (ultra-greedy and cheap), there's no such thing as redemption. You have to be a good caring person before you can actually be a redeemed Christian that all on the right seem to crave. Then again, maybe I am wrong and Jesus was a greedy hateful person like many on the right who claim to love him tend to be.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Karen

      Could not agree more. Besides......the old pols have had their opportunity (and what a mess they made). Now it is time to elect younger candidates with fewer connections to the lobbyists.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • kleinaj18

      YAY! Another clown arrives in the Republican circus!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Bob

      No kidding. "Tax cuts for billionaires, make grandma eat alpo, f**** the poor" is the world's least Christian message – and incidentally the Retardican Party platform!

      May 11, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Archangel07

      Scott I couldn't have said it better.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.