Seeking to address concerns about his personal life and commitment to social conservative causes, Newt Gingrich pledged in a letter to an Iowa advocacy group that he would “defend and strengthen the family.”
It was part of Gingrich’s efforts to lobby for the endorsement of the Family Leader, a coalition of social conservatives in the state where caucuses kick off voting in the Republican presidential race three weeks from today.
So far, evangelical Christians and social conservatives haven’t coalesced around a single candidate as they did in 2008, when former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee rode their support to win the Republican caucuses in Iowa.
Gingrich’s three marriages and the extramarital affair he had with his current wife, Callista, concern some evangelical voters as signaling ethical weakness. They also say they worry his personal life might hurt his electability in a 2012 race against President Barack Obama. And some have questioned the degree to which he supports their agenda.
In a copy of the letter made public by Family Leader yesterday, Gingrich said he would “uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others.”
Gingrich also said he would “vigorously enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted under my leadership as Speaker of the House, and ensure compliance with its provisions, especially in the military.”
The 1996 act defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for purposes of taxes, Social Security and other federal programs. Obama’s administration announced earlier this year it wouldn’t defend the measure in court.
Gingrich so far hasn’t signed a 14-point pledge that Family Leader has promoted this year that includes opposition to same- sex marriage and abortion rights, as well as putting women “in forward combat roles.” The pledge also calls for recognizing that “robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security.”
Planned Parenthood Funding
In his letter, Gingrich wrote that “life begins at conception,” and that he would take federal funding away from Planned Parenthood and “transfer the money so it is used to promote adoption and other pro-family policies, and enact legislation that provides greater protections for the unborn.”
Three of the Republican presidential contenders seeking the group’s endorsement have signed the pledge: U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Last month, the group said it had narrowed the field of candidates it might endorse to those three, plus Gingrich.
“We are pleased that Speaker Gingrich has affirmed our pledge and are thankful we have on record his statements,” Bob Vander Plaats, the group’s president said in a statement.
Social conservatives are a powerful bloc within the Republican Party in Iowa, where Jan. 3 caucuses start the party’s nomination process. In 2008, exit polls showed 60 percent who attended the party’s caucuses described themselves as born-again or evangelicals.
Gingrich, 68, the leader in the polls in three of the first four states to vote in the Republican race, was asked at a Dec. 10 debate in Iowa about his three marriages. He said his personal life should be viewed in its entirety, a position he’s taken in interviews with evangelical radio talk-show hosts and others during his presidential candidacy.
“I’ve made mistakes at times,” he said at the debate. “I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness. I’ve had to seek reconciliation. But I’m also a 68-year-old grandfather. I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I’m a person they can trust.”
Perry, who has focused on social conservatives in his Iowa campaign, indirectly took a shot at Gingrich when asked at the debate whether infidelity should disqualify someone for the presidency.
“If you cheat on your wife, you’ll cheat on your business partner,” he said.
Gingrich, who has converted to Catholicism since marrying Callista, often talks about the importance of faith in his life during his campaigning. In Iowa last year, he helped obtain seed money for an effort to oust three state Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of gay marriage.
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