- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2012

BEAUFORT, S.C. — Newt Gingrich angrily denied that he asked his second wife for an “open marriage” and denounced the moderator in Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate for raising the issue in the leadoff question.

Gingrich blasted what he called the “destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media.”

The former House speaker slammed CNN moderator John King during the debate, saying that he was “appalled” that King would begin a presidential debate with the topic.

Gingrich called the question about his ex-wife’s allegations “as close to despicable as anything as I can imagine.”

The former speaker’s second wife, Marianne Gingrich, says in an interview with ABC News that when she discovered Gingrich was having an affair he asked her for an open marriage.

He called her claims false.

Marianne Gingrich’s claims came on the same day that Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race and endorsed Gingrich.

Gingrich also released his 2010 income tax returns, which showed he owed $613,517 in federal taxes on more $3.1 million in income. They showed he owed roughly 31.6 percent of his adjusted income in taxes, giving about 2 percent to charity.

Two days before the pivotal South Carolina primary, Gingrich’s political and private life were clashing just as new polls showed him rising as he looks to overtake GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in the third state to weigh in on the presidential race. Gingrich has seen his crowds grow in recent days after a strong performance in a debate Monday.

It was unclear how the new revelations from Marianne Gingrich would play in a state where religious and socially conservative voters hold sway.

Equally uncertain was whether Gingrich would get a boost from Perry’s endorsement, given that the Texas governor had little support in the state, and get conservative voters to coalesce behind his candidacy. Complicating Gingrich’s effort is another conservative, Rick Santorum, who threatens to siphon his support.

“Newt is not perfect but who among us is,” Perry said as he bowed out of the race and called Gingrich a “conservative visionary.”

It was all but certainly intended to provide political cover for Gingrich with evangelicals here ahead of the interview with Marianne Gingrich, her first on television since the divorce from Gingrich in 2000, that ABC News was set to broadcast Thursday night.

In excerpts the network released earlier in the day, Marianne Gingrich said that when she learned of Gingrich’s affair with Callista Bisek, a congressional staffer, he asked his wife to share him.

“And I just stared at him and he said, ‘Callista doesn’t care what I do,’” Gingrich‘ second wife said. “He wanted an open marriage and I refused.”

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