- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2012

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Besieged by accusations from one of his former wives of marital problems, Newt Gingrich on Thursday night fired back, blaming the press for carrying the story and calling it “trash,” as he and the three remaining Republican candidates held their final debate before South Carolina’s primary on Saturday.

“To take an ex-wife and make it, two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine,” Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker, said. “The story is false.”

His furious denial came on one of the most astounding days in recent political history. First, Iowa’s Republican Party released updated results that show former Sen. Rick Santorum appears to have won that state’s caucuses, not Mitt Romney. And almost at the same time, Texas Gov. Rick Perry ended his campaign and endorsed Mr. Gingrich.

Mr. Perry’s decision narrowed the field on stage for Thursday’s debate to four candidates: Mr. Romney and the other three — Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul — who are vying to become the conservative alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.

Republican presidential hopefuls (from left) Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul take the stage Jan. 19, 2012, for the Southern Republican Presidential Debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times) **FILE**
Republican presidential hopefuls (from left) Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and ... more >

With that mantle at stake, Mr. Santorum launched several biting new attacks at Mr. Gingrich, including accusing him of turning a blind eye to the House check-kiting scandal, which Mr. Santorum said he helped expose once he was elected to Congress in 1990.

“You knew about it for 10 or 15 years, because you told me you knew about it, did nothing because you didn’t have the courage to stand up to your own leadership,” Mr. Santorum said, crediting Republicans’ exposure of the check scandal for the GOP’s gains in 1994. “That had more, or as much to do with the 1994 win as any plan that you put together.”

Mr. Gingrich didn’t respond to that charge directly, but instead said he pushed numerous ethics charges against fellow members of Congress, including at one point House Speaker Jim Wright, Texas Democrat.

“Long before Rick came to Congress, I was busy being a rebel,” he said.

Mr. Gingrich was the chief target of the night, with both Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney saying he is too erratic to be a good nominee in a battle against President Obama.

“I don’t want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and figuring out what is he — worrying about what he’s going to say next,” Mr. Santorum said. “That’s what I think we’re seeing here.”

Mr. Gingrich acknowledged he does “think grandiose thoughts.”

“This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things, and we need leadership prepared to take on big projects,” he said.

For his part, Mr. Romney, a successful businessman before he was governor, bristled at Mr. Gingrich’s suggestion that the then-speaker and his “Republican Revolution” was responsible for the economic prosperity of the 1990s.

“I don’t recall a single day saying, ‘Oh, thank heavens, Washington is there for me,’ ” he said. “I said, ‘Please get out of my way. Let me start a business and put Americans to work.’ “

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