Reporting from Washington —
Newt Gingrich — the twice-divorced former House speaker and recent convert to Roman Catholicism — is courting evangelical Christians as he lays the groundwork for a possible presidential campaign, hoping to find favor among a group that will play a pivotal role in picking the 2012 Republican nominee.
In recent years, Gingrich has met privately with pastors best known nationally for their campaigns against same-sex marriage, sharing deeply personal details about his marital history as he expresses contrition for his past actions.
Gingrich has also provided financial and strategic support for their causes. Last fall, he played a key behind-the-scenes role in an unprecedented — and successful — campaign to remove three Iowa Supreme Court judges who approved same-sex marriage in the state, helping secure $200,000 in seed money for the effort.
Two years ago, he created a nonprofit organization aimed at religious conservatives, filling the board with evangelical leaders. One board member, Vivian Berryhill, president and founder of the National Coalition of Pastors’ Spouses, said Gingrich helped raise money and other resources to advance the group’s projects on diabetes and teen sexual abstinence.
Gingrich’s moves are meant to allay concerns among influential religious conservatives that his personal history is at odds with their views. In 2007, he admitted during a radio interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson that he had been having an extramarital affair with his present wife as he was excoriating President Clinton for lying to a grand jury about his dalliance with a White House intern. As Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, put it, Gingrich has “one ex-spouse too many for most evangelicals.”
But as the former speaker moves closer to a potential White House bid, with more details expected Thursday, his wooing of the evangelical community appears to be paying off.
“I think he’s just excellent,” said Pastor Brad Sherman, who leads Solid Rock Christian Church in Coralville, Iowa. “Everybody brings up his past, but he’s very open about that, and God is forgiving,” said Sherman, who had lunch with Gingrich last fall.