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Meet the “New Newt,” a repackaged Newt Gingrich currently grabbing the spotlight as the GOP flavor of the month in a crowded and volatile race for the presidential nomination.
Some see him as the long-sought conservative alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Others see him as just another Washington establishment hack with too much political baggage and too many ties to special interests.
“Gingrich’s past is a problem,” a longtime GOP operative tells Capitol Hill Blue. “He’s damaged goods.”
Damaged goods or not, Gingrich is surging in recent polls, rising to a strong second place in New Hampshire, leading in some Iowa surveys and touted as a contender to win in South Carolina.
But the same social conservatives that Gingrich seeks to attract have doubts about the new and improved Newt.
“This is a man who talks family values out of one side of his mouth while cheating on two previous wives,” says GOP voter Michelle Atkins of Atlanta, Georgia. “I have no use for a Republican Bill Clinton.”
While his personal life raises eyebrows, his activity since resigning as Speaker of the House causes even more concern.
Gingrich banked $1.6 million as a consultant for Freddie Mac, the federally-back mortgage giant that right-wingers want eliminated. He bragged in South Carolina Tuesday that he “didn’t need the money” because he pulls down $65,000 each for speeches.
Such extravagances don’t sit well with fiscal conservatives.
Then there is a changing religious affiliation. Born a Lutheran, he became a Southern Baptist for political expedience in his Georgia district but converted to Catholic after dumping his second wife for a younger woman — House staffer Calista Bisek.
Gingrich and his trophy wife have a fondness for the high life. They ran up a half-million debt with Tiffany’s and Bisek had sizable balances on her charge account with the fancy New York jeweler while still working as a staff member for the House Agriculture Committee.
“Newt may say he doesn’t need the money, but he does need to keep those high-dollar checks rolling in to pay for Calista’s charge accounts,” says a former Gingrich campaign aide.