BEAUFORT, S.C.--In his first public appearance since ABC News released excerpts of an interview with his second wife in which she provided details of his extramarital affairs, Newt Gingrich said that he decided to run for president despite his personal history because his duty to "the country was worth the pain."
Without referring to the story specifically, a supporter here asked Gingrich about how the American people would perceive a candidate with a "character that some may feel is questionable."
"I have been very open about my life," Gingrich said. "I have been very open about mistakes i have made. I have been very open about needing to go to God about forgiveness to seek reconciliation. Callista and I have a wonderful relationship."
"We knew we'd get beaten up," he went on to say. "We knew we'd be lied about. We knew we'd get smeared, we knew we would have nasty attack ads. We decided the country was worth the pain."
Gingrich's second ex-wife, Marianne Ginther, alleged in the ABC News interview that Gingrich requested an "open marriage" so he could continue his relationship another woman, Callista, who was his mistress at the time. Gingrich later divorced Ginther and married Callista in 2000.
"He was asking to have an open marriage and I refused," Ginther said. "That is not a marriage."
Gingrich ignored direct questions about Ginther's "open marriage" allegation during a press conference after the event.
When asked if he was worried that her comments could imperil his chances in South Carolina, which have been steadily rising according to at least three recent polls, Gingrich said, "No."
"I'm not going to say anything about Marianne," he said.
He then referred to a letter written by his adult daughters, Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman, in which they told ABC News executives that the campaign would not "say anything negative" about Ginther.
"The failure of a marriage is a terrible and emotional experience for everyone involved," the letter reads. "Anyone who has had that experience understands it is a personal tragedy filled with regrets, and sometimes differing memories of events. He has said before, privately and publicly, that he regrets any pain he may have caused in the past to people he loves."
"That's my answer," Gingrich said.
In Charleston, the Romney campaign—at least publicly—was avoiding answering questions about Marianne Gingrich's interview with ABC. Asked if the interview would affect the outcome of the South Carolina primary, Romney strategist Stuart Stevens paused for several seconds before throwing his hands in the air, as if to say stop.
"Not going to touch that," Stevens said, shaking his head.
When pressed, Stevens again shook his head.
"Not going there," he said.
Holly Bailey contributed reporting.
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