An angry Newt Gingrich, during Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, faced tough opening questions about his former marital status, denying he asked his ex-wife to allow him to have an “open marriage” while he had an affair with a staff member in 1999.
Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, told debate moderator John King that he was “appalled” King would begin the debate on such a topic.
Gingrich also attacked the what he described as the “elite” news media, calling it destructive, vicious, and negative. He said the story about his troubled second marriage is false and said ABC news, which reported the allegations, refused to talk to Gingrich associates.
Of Gingrich’s three challengers, only former Pennsylvania Governor Rick Santorum directly commented on the controversy, saying voters have to consider issues of character. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, while not directly commenting on the matter, said he was happy to be married to his wife of 54 years. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney did not comment.
Only four Republican candidates remain in the race to defeat President Barack Obama in November. Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out hours before the debate after poor showing in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.
South Carolina holds its primary Saturday. The latest polls show Romney as the front runner, but with Gingrich surging.
His second wife, Marianne, told ABC News, that he asked her to “accept the fact” that he had another woman in his life. She said she refused his request for them to have an “open marriage.” When he was Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gingrich helped lead the movement in Congress to impeach then President Bill Clinton for lying about an affair with a White House intern.
Also Thursday, Rick Santorum’s candidacy got a boost when Republican officials in the state of Iowa said won the the most votes in the state’s January 3 caucuses, not Romney. Initially, Iowa Republican officials said that Romney unofficially won the caucuses by eight votes, and Santorum, a social conservative, came in second.