The Washington Times - January 20, 2012, 03:33AM

When ABC announced on Wednesday it would air on Thursday a controversial interview of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s second wife Marianne Gingrich, many wondered if the potentially damaging information about Mr. Gingrich would hurt his recent rise in the polls both nationally and in South Carolina before the state’s primary on Saturday.

However, the news about the ABC interview came about so suddenly, it was difficult to measure whether or not South Carolina GOP primary voters were really taking the story into consideration already. Mr. Gingrich did not want to talk about the issue on the campaign trail on Friday afternoon before the GOP debate in Charleston. 

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More importantly, the real question was not only if CNN debate moderator John King would bring the issue up during the debate but also if Newt Gingrich’s response to such a question would bring GOP primary voters in South Carolina to his side. 

Mr. King wasted no time to ask Mr. Gingrich about it, as it was the first issue of the debate to contend with.

“As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with The Washington Post. And this story has now gone viral on the Internet,” said King.  

“In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair.  She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage.”  He asked, “Would you like to take some time to respond to that?”

Mr. Gingrich immediately snapped back, “No, but I will.” The audience clapped and Gingrich continued saying,  “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office.  And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.” 

 At that point, audience members rose to their feet and the former Speaker was in his best form. He placed himself in a position of sympathy and took on the media…starting with CNN’s John King.

  “Every person in here knows personal pain.  Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things,” Gingrich said. “To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

 “My — my two daughters — my two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.” 

King defended himself and his network saying, that the “story did not come from (CNN).” He added,  “As you also know, it is a subject of conversation on the campaign.”  

However, Mr. Gingrich would have none of it and angrily responded to Mr. King that the story “was repeated” by CNN.  “You chose to start the debate with it.  Don’t try to blame somebody else, said Gingrich.  “You and your staff chose to start this debate with it.”

The audience displayed an uproar of support for Mr. Gingrich at that point. The Speaker finally remarked that the story was “false.” 

Once again, Newt Gingrich used the debate stage to save himself from falling off the political precipice. The crowd responses in the debate hall he received from answers he gave regarding the issues surrounding his ex-wife Marianne, gives us better clues about Gingrich’s chances in the South Carolina primary this Saturday, and

Mr. King may have very well helped Gingrich with not only Palmetto GOP primary voters but also Republican voters waiting to vote in Florida’s primary next.