Gingrich: White House race is wide open

Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on CBS' "The Early Show," Friday, November 11, 2011. CBS

The recipient of good news in the latest CBS News poll of Republican primary voters was for New Gingrich, who has seen his candidacy climb as support for other candidates has weakened a bit.

In the poll released Friday, Gingrich is now tied for second place with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, while businessman Herman Cain remains in the number one spot. Both Cain and Romney have lost support since late October.

But the race could still change; seven in 10 Republican primary voters say it is still too early to decide for sure.

"It's great to be back in contention," Gingrich said Friday on CBS' "The Early Show," "and I'm very grateful to the voters who are supporting me.

"The big thing I take from your poll is that this is a wide-open race. Any of the candidates could make a surge and suddenly be in dramatically better shape."

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Gingrich appeared in advance of the Republican presidential primary debate on foreign policy being hosted by CBS News/National Journal on Saturday, November 12 at 8:00 p.m. ET. on CBS. (Submit a debate question: What do you want to ask the candidates?)

When asked to explain his rise in the polls, Gingrich offered, "I think substance really matters. If you go to newt.org to see all the different things in our 21st century Contract With America, it's probably the most substantive campaign in modern history. And I think that's mattered because people are really worried about jobs, they're worried about the economy, they're worried about the deficit.

"You could not have timed your debate tomorrow night better than the week the report comes out on Iran and nuclear weapons and all the different things going on around the world, the challenges with Greece, Italy and the economy. I think people are looking for a serious potential president because they see the issues as being so very serious to their own lives."

When asked by anchor Chris Wragge if he thought the foreign policy theme of the debate was a way "to show the American people you are most prepared to be commander in chief over the others on stage," Gingrich replied, "I think people have to make that judgment themselves.

"I'm the only candidate who has been working with the U.S. Army since 1979, I'm the longest-serving teacher in the senior military for one- and two-star generals and admirals. I was one of the key people on intelligence as Speaker of the House. So I have a background in that area.

"But I think for the country it's really good that you're hosting a debate on foreign policy and national security because ... these are much bigger issues. This isn't a governor's race; this is the presidency.

"When you start thinking about worldwide national security, economic security issues, the question of American sovereignty in a world where a lot of other countries would like to entangle us in their laws which are very often different than the American Constitution, there are some really big issues at stake.

"I think people will watch all of this and try to think differently because when you think about these things, you have a different yardstick for being president than when you think about domestic policy, which governors can do pretty easily."

When asked if he thought Herman Cain had done a sufficient job answering allegations of sexual harassment raised by four women - Cain has adamantly denied ever harassing anyone - Gingrich said, "Well, I think he's been answering each charge as it comes up, and it depends on whether or not there are more charges. He's admitted himself that if there are more charges then he's going to have to answer them, he can't get out of it. It's a fact of life. Up to now he seems to have satisfied most people that the allegations aren't proven, and that having people who hold press conferences isn't the same as a conviction. So I think people are giving him the benefit of the doubt.

"I have known Herman a long time. He's a very attractive, very articulate person. He's been very bold in his ideas and I think people admire that kind of boldness."

Gingrich was also asked how he felt in the debate earlier this weekend when Texas Gov. Rick Perry stumbled badly, stating that as president he would dismantle three cabinet-level bureaus and then being unable to name them.

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"It was very uncomfortable because I like Rick Perry a lot. I wrote the foreword to his last book. Plus I regard he and [Perry's wife] Anita as good friends. The thing that makes it doubly uncomfortable is, any of us could have it happen. Let's be clear, I'm a pretty good debater. I've had moments in my life when I couldn't remember a name or I couldn't remember a fact or something. I can imagine doing that in front of the whole country. And so I don't think any of us took any happiness or any glee out of it. We all felt very uncomfortable for Rick. We also felt there but for the grace of God goes me. I think we're a little cautious to jump to judgment on that one little incident."

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