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Gingrich on his messy personal life: "I've had to go to God and ask for forgiveness"

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WASHINGTON--At the end of a breakfast with reporters on Monday former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he thought it went well, that is, if one sees an upside to a presidential hopeful starting the session with the news that his campaign is not dead.

He paraphrased Mark Twain: reports of his campaign demise are "highly exaggerated. "

Gingrich lectured the reporters at the breakfast, hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, that he was not going to entertain "gotcha" questions, a tactic he used to try to pre-empt questions about his affairs, that Tiffany bill and the disrespect he showed to the Republican Party's biggest rising star, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), the Budget Committee Chairman by referring to the House GOP Medicare plan as "right wing social engineering."

"Not going into secondary issues," Gingrich declared.

A Gingrich presidential campaign could surmount questions about his personal life and his wife at one time owing money to Tiffany's. Insulting the popular Ryan? That created a problem for Gingrich he is trying to will and work away. Washington based analysts and columnists spent last week writing Gingrich's campaign obit.

"I can't thank the Washington press corps enough," Gingrich said. "Last week has convinced voters that I'm an outsider. I will clearly be the most change oriented, most fundamental reform candidate in this race."

I asked Gingrich if voters would care about his personal life.

He replied, "Of course they well. And I have been very clear and very direct about the fact that I've made mistakes, that I've had to go to God and ask for forgiveness, that I've had to seek reconciliation....They are going to judge the whole person. I'm not going to spend half of the campaign answering questions about it."

Some thoughts as Gingrich is moving ahead with a 2012 presidential run:

*Gingrich may drown in his paper trail.

President Obama was an inexperienced Illinois senator when he jumped in the 2008 contest, in part because he did not have much of a record to comb through.

Gingrich is proud of his stats, which he shared: 23 books--the 24th will be published in June--some 7,300 votes, 5,000 speeches, given over 10,000 interviews and co-hosted with his wife seven documentary films. That's a bonanza for opposition researchers.

*Gingrich is not a sunny personality, compared to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama. He comes across as grim.

*I took a look at Gingrich's talking points.

Gingrich's biggest asset is his big ideas; his main challenge is message discipline. He brought his large-type talking points to the breakfast and kept them in front of him. I had a good view.

"Two key questions," the sheet said. "1. Is America on the wrong track? 2. What will it take to change Washington." His qualifications? One is his "ability to articulate the large differences with President Obama and win the debates in 2012."

*He's an insider who is running as an outsider. Will voters buy in?
Gingrich-who has lived and worked in Washington for decades--is casting himself as an outsider in his 2012 GOP presidential campaign. The strategy worked for Obama, who as a U.S. senator ran against Washington all the way to the White House.

"I'm not a Washington figure, despite the years I've been here," Gingrich said. I'm not sure what gray area Gingrich is seeing here. He is a former Speaker, for goodness sake and has been a guest at this breakfast--a Washington institution--36 times. "I'm essentially an American whose ties are across the country and is interested in how you change Washington, not how you make Washington happy."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 23, 2011 5:19 PM.

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