Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, newly ascendant in the polls this week, is already on the defensive about his messy personal life and said early Tuesday "I've had moments in my life that I regret."
In an appearance on the Fox News program "Fox and Friends," Gingrich was asked about fliers that are being distributed in Iowa by evangelicals that raise the issue of adultery during his first and second marriages. "Is Nothing Sacred to Newt?" asks the flier, circulated by a group called Iowans for Christian Leadership in Government. It concludes with, "If Newt Gingrich can't be faithful to his wife, how can we trust him to be faithful to conservative voters."
Gingrich said on Fox, "I'm very open about the fact that I've had moments in my life that I regret. I've indicated that I've had to go to God and ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation." The former House speaker said he now has "a very close marriage with Callista," and maintains close relationships with two children from earlier marriages and his grandchildren.
"And anybody who looks at me as a 68-year-old grandfather and says to themselves, 'Alright, has he grown wiser? Has he learned from his experience?" he said. "I've very comfortable relying on the American people to have a sense of decency and to have a sense of understanding of human beings."
When he was speaker of the House, Gingrich had an affair with Callista Bisek, then a young committee staff aide, while married to his second wife, Marianne Gingrich. He divorced Marianne in 1999. Eighteen years earlier, he proposed to Marianne while he was still married to his first wife, Jackie Battley, who has said that Gingrich told her he wanted a divorce while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. Gingrich disputes that account from his first wife.
Gingrich also talked about his quick rise in the polls in recent days after a string of strong debate performances and after support for other conservative alternatives to front-runner Mitt Romney collapsed. "The American people are very concerned about the economy, about a $2 trillion deficit, about Washington that doesn't seem to work. It's all bickering and partisanship. So I think they're looking for somebody who makes sense and who offers them an optimistic sense that we can get America to work again.
"And I think week after week in the debates, because I focus so much on substance and on positive solutions, I think we've been steadily gaining ground."