One major issue that might have slowed Newt Gingrich’s momentum in South Carolina – his history of marital infidelities, most recently highlighted in interviews with his second wife – appears not to be doing so.
Heading into today’s primary election there, Gingrich was polling at 37 percent to 28 percent for Mitt Romney, 16 percent for Rick Santorum, and 14 percent for Ron Paul, according to Public Policy Polling (PPP).
“Gingrich's lead has actually increased in the wake of his ex-wife's controversial interview with ABC,” reports PPP. “There's a lot of skepticism about it. Only 31 percent of voters say they think her accusations are true while 35 percent think they are false and 34 percent are unsure. Fifty-one percent of voters say that they have 'no concerns' about what came out in the interview.”
Gingrich’s response to Marianne Gingrich’s charge that her former husband sought an “open marriage” in order to continue an affair with the woman who would become his third wife – deny it outright and blast the media for its “destructive, vicious, negative nature” – clearly is working, according to this poll.
Just 14 percent of likely South Carolina GOP primary voters have a generally favorable opinion of the media, while 77 percent view it negatively.
Other surveys have found similar results – especially when the episode happened years ago.
A Monitor/TIPP poll taken in December shows that the more distant the infidelity, the less the public cares about it.
Asked “How important is marital fidelity to you in choosing a presidential candidate?” 52 percent said “important” (27 percent “very important”), and another 26 percent said “somewhat important.” Among Republicans, the total saying the issue was at least somewhat important was 87 percent.
But asked to “rate how you would weigh a presidential candidate's infidelity if the affair occurred 10 years ago,” the numbers shifted significantly. Only 28 percent said “extremely” or “very” important, and that number was actually lower for Republicans (26 percent). For 42 percent of those surveyed, any infidelity that long ago – which is the case with Gingrich – was viewed as “not very important” or “not important at all.”
“Newt Gingrich looks like the clear favorite now in tomorrow’s primary,” Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling, said Friday. “There was a thought that his ex-wife’s interview could stop his momentum in South Carolina, but instead it seems to have reinforced his support. He’s winning with all the key groups that determine the winners and losers in Palmetto state GOP politics.”
The latest American Research Group poll, conducted in South Carolina on Thursday and Friday, shows Gingrich leading Romney 40-26 percent.
South Carolina is about as “red” a state as they come, where active Republicans are inclined to favor the most conservative, most combative candidate. Things could change as the primary train moves to Florida and beyond. But for now, that’s Newt Gingrich – despite his controversial marital history.