The Independent-Mail, Nathan Gray) THE GREENVILLE NEWS OUT, SENECA NEWS OUT, Associated Press
BEAUFORT, S.C. — In an up-and-down campaign day, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich picked up an endorsement Thursday from former rival Rick Perry but also faced explosive accusations from one of his former wives the he had asked her for permission to have an "open marriage" after she learned he was having an affair.
The former House speaker disputed his ex-wife's account, with spokesman R.C. Hammond telling The Associated Press: "It couldn't be any more opposite of the truth."
Gingrich also prepared to release his 2010 income tax returns, a move certain to bring fresh scrutiny to his campaign, roughly a half hour before he would take the stage in Charleston to debate his remaining rivals.
Two days before the pivotal South Carolina primary, Gingrich's political and private life were clashing just as new polls showed him rising as he looks to overtake GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in the third state to weigh in on the presidential race. Gingrich has seen his crowds grow in recent days after a strong performance in a debate Monday.
It was unclear how the new revelations from Marianne Gingrich would play in a state where religious and socially conservative voters hold sway.
Equally uncertain was whether Gingrich would get a boost from Perry's endorsement, given that the Texas governor had little support in the state, and get conservative voters to coalesce behind his candidacy. Complicating Gingrich's effort is another conservative, Rick Santorum, who threatens to siphon his support.
"Newt is not perfect but who among us is," Perry said as he bowed out of the race and called Gingrich a "conservative visionary."
It was all but certainly intended to provide political cover for Gingrich with evangelicals here ahead of the interview with Marianne Gingrich, her first on television since the divorce from Gingrich in 2000, that ABC News was set to broadcast Thursday night.
In excerpts the network released earlier in the day, Marianne Gingrich said that when she learned of Gingrich's affair with Callista Bisek, a congressional staffer, he asked his wife to share him.
"And I just stared at him and he said, 'Callista doesn't care what I do,'" Gingrich' second wife said. "He wanted an open marriage and I refused."
Hours after the excerpts were released, Gingrich brushed aside reporters' questions after a campaign event along the waterfront in Beaufort, S.C.
"Look, I'm not going to say anything about Marianne. My two daughters have already written to ABC complaining about this as tawdry and inappropriate," he said, referring all queries about his second marriage to his two daughters from his first marriage, Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman.
"I'm not getting involved," said Gingrich, who has said the past that tough questions are fair game for a candidate running for president.
Later in the day, Hammond told the AP that Gingrich never asked Marianne Gingrich for an "open marriage" and suggested, like Gingrich's daughters did a day earlier, that Marianne Gingrich's comments may be suspect given the emotional toll divorce takes on everyone involved.
"Divorces are very tough and people have very different recollections of how things happen," Hammond said.
The television interview with Marianne Gingrich threw a wild card into the race in its final hours.
Its mere existence shines a spotlight on a part of Gingrich's past that could turn off Republican voters in a state filled with religious and cultural conservatives who may cringe at his two divorces and acknowledged marital infidelities.
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