Newt Gingrich's Past Weighs Him Down In Florida

LUTZ, Fla. -- Newt and Callista Gingrich walked into the massive Idlewild Baptist Church here Sunday morning and sat in the third row of pews to hear a sermon that touched at points on themes central to Gingrich's biography: personal mistakes, betrayal of one's closest relations, and a search for forgiveness.

"There are some of you in this room, I would venture to guess, who have ripped apart families," said the preacher, Russell Moore, the dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Moore's message -- focused on the sanctity of human life -- was one of forgiveness and the grace of God.

Gingrich, the former House speaker from Georgia, has said he has gone to God over his two adulterous relationships and three marriages.

Moore's sermon touched on the idea that in the midst of "gory, awful, gritty reality," there can still be "beauty and redemption and hope."

But it appeared Sunday that if Gingrich's past held the seeds of a future of redemption, it was not political -- at least not in Florida. A new telephone survey released Saturday night of 800 registered Florida voters, conducted by MasonDixon Polling & Research from Jan. 24 to 26, indicated that the impact of Gingrich's past on his political fortunes was hurting him severely.

"Gingrich and Romney are essentially tied among men, but Romney has a 19-point lead over Gingrich among women. Gingrich's cocky persona, combined with his three marriages and record of infidelity, help account for that gender gap," the Tampa Bay Times wrote.

That 19-point gap is key to Gingrich's flagging fortunes in Florida, where he has fallen behind Romney by an average of more than a dozen points, just in the matter of the last few days.

Carol Mitsch, a retired 69-year-old business owner who attended the service and said she had not decided whom to vote for, called Gingrich a "good man" but said his past was nonetheless a factor in her decision-making.

"I try to set that aside, but I think women in general are more negative because of ... the history in the past," Mitsch said. "We're all forgiven but I think it stays with a woman because she doesn't want to be the women on the other side, like his ex-wife."

"I know a lot of women who have said they're not going to vote for him because of his history," Mitsch continued. "Not that he's not a good man and hasn't turned his back on that lifestyle, but because it's inherent in women to be judgmental of a man who has been unfaithful to his wife."

Gingrich profited politically from discussion of his past in South Carolina. At a debate in Charleston on Jan. 19, Gingrich decried CNN's John King when the journalist asked Gingrich about a charge by his second ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, that he had asked her for an "open marriage" when he disclosed his affair with his current wife to her in 1999.

But it appears that for whatever reason, in Florida the issue of Gingrich's character has been a bigger focus for women voters.

When asked Sunday morning by a reporter why he thought he trailed so badly among women voters in Florida, Gingrich brushed off the question.

"I have no idea because I haven't seen those numbers before," Gingrich said.

Gingrich did not talk to the press about his reflections during the church service. He made no mention of redemption. His tone was one of attack, as he raised the level of his criticism on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his main rival in the Republican primary.