The ABC News debate in Iowa Saturday (Dec. 9) was one of the final ones before the Iowa caucuses are held Jan. 3. Another debate is scheduled Thursday on Fox News.
Gingrich's three marriages remain perhaps his biggest challenge with evangelicals in Iowa, where he has surged in recent days and the latest polls have him holding anywhere from a 9- to a 15-point lead.
Gingrich and the other five candidates at the ABC debate took turns giving their opinion as to whether voters should "consider marital fidelity in making their choices for president."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry took the question first and said his marital vow was a "vow to my wife" and a "vow to God."
"I've always kind of been of the opinion that if you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner," Perry said. "So, I think that issue of fidelity is important."
Former Sen. Rick Santorum said marital infidelity shouldn't be a "disqualifier" but that it should nevertheless be considered.
"Certainly, it's a factor," Santorum said. "And it should be a factor. You're electing a leader. You're electing someone that trust is everything, and particularly in this election. ... I hear this all the time: Who can we trust? And I go out and talk about my record. I talk about the fact that I've been married 21 years and have seven children."
Rep. Ron Paul said character is "obviously very important."
"I don't think it should be necessary to have to talk about it," Paul said. "I think it should show through in the way we live. And I think it should show through in a marriage. And I happen to have been married for 54 years and a family person. But, I don't think we should have to talk about it. But, you know what? ... If your marriage vows are important, what about our oath of office? That's what really gets to me."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has launched a television ad which shows him saying he's been married "to the same woman" for 42 years. The ad touts what it says are his attributes of "steadiness and constancy." Speaking during the debate, Romney said the ad was a response to an attack by Obama's political action committee (PAC).
"President Obama's PAC came out with an ad attacking me and said that I'm not a person of core values ... I don't have a core," Romney said. "And we said, 'You know in my prior campaigns I've come out with ads that show who I am and why I've gotten in this race.' And that relates to my family and my kids."
Rep. Michele Bachmann said the issue is one that the Founding Fathers addressed.
"And the question was asked, 'What is it that we need to have in a president?' And they wrote in the Federalist Papers. They didn't look at wealth. They didn't look at education. They didn't look at position. They looked at just one issue. And it was, 'What's the measure of a man?' Or, what's the measure of a woman, in our case, for being the next president of the United States? Will they keep their word? Will they be a man or woman of integrity? That's what they cared about. That was more important than anything else."
Gingrich was married to his second wife, Marianne, when he had an affair with a congressional staffer during the 1990s. That staffer, the former Callista Bisek, is his current wife. He divorced his second wife in 1999 and his first wife in 1980.
Speaking during the debate, Gingrich called marital fidelity a "real issue" in choosing a president.
"People have to look at the person whom they're going to loan the presidency," Gingrich said. "And they have the right to ask every single question. They have to have a feeling that this is a person that they can trust with the level of power we give to the presidency. And I think that's a very, very important issue. And I think people have to render judgment. In my case, I've said up-front and openly I've made mistakes at times. I've had to go to God for forgiveness. I've had to seek reconciliation. But I'm also a 68-year-old grandfather. And I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I'm a person they can trust."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
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