Marianne Gingrich has said Gingrich proposed to her before the divorce from his first wife was final in 1981; they were married six months later. Her marriage to Gingrich ended in divorce in 2000, and Gingrich has admitted he'd already taken up with Callista Bisek, a former congressional aide who would become his third wife. The speaker who pilloried President Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky was himself having an affair at the time.
A CNN/Time South Carolina poll released Wednesday showed Gingrich in second place with support from 23 percent of likely primary voters, having gained 5 percentage points in the past two weeks. Romney led in the poll with 33 percent, but he had slipped some since the last survey. Santorum was third, narrowly ahead of Texas Rep. Ron Paul and well ahead of Perry.
Regardless of the South Carolina outcome, Gingrich was making plans to compete in Florida's primary on Jan. 31.
Confidence exuded from Gingrich, who rose in Iowa only to be knocked off course after sustaining $3 million in attack ads in Iowa from an outside group that supports Romney. Gingrich posted dismal showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
By the time the race turned to South Carolina, he was sharply criticizing Romney as a social moderate who is timid about attacking the nation's economic troubles. He also raised questions about Romney's experience as a venture capitalist, while a super PAC that supports Gingrich aggressively attacked Romney as a vicious corporate raider. Gingrich also ripped Romney for standing by as a super PAC run by former top Romney political aides continued to attack him in South Carolina.
Romney ended up on the defensive and by Monday night's debate, Gingrich was back in command. He earned a standing ovation when he labeled Democratic President Barack Obama "the best food stamp president in American history." The clip became the centerpiece of a television ad that began airing Wednesday as Gingrich worked to cast himself as the Republican with the best chance of beating Obama in the fall, stealing a page from Romney's playbook.
Said Gingrich senior adviser David Winston: "His taking on Barack Obama showed a toughness and an electability that the electorate is looking for."
Since then, Romney's campaign, sensing Gingrich's rise and working to deflect from its own troubles, has been trying to undercut Gingrich's claim that he helped President Ronald Reagan create millions of jobs in the 1980s, likening it to "Al Gore taking credit for the Internet."
Romney also dispatched supporters to make the case that Gingrich is erratic and unreliable. A new Romney Web video features former Republican Rep. Susan Molinari of New York saying Gingrich lacked discipline and labeling his time as speaker "leadership by chaos."
Gingrich, for his part, has been helped by the fact that Santorum has seemed unable to capitalize on the endorsement of a group of influential Christian conservatives. Those who aren't backing the former Pennsylvania senator seem to be coming Gingrich's way.
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