- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Seeking to boost his support with a crucial Florida voting bloc, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took part in a mass conference call Wednesday involving large numbers of the state’s evangelical and religious conservative voters.

Mr. Gingrich, coming off a stunning win in South Carolina’s primary last week, confirmed his participation in an interview with The Washington Times.

“I was on my campaign bus during the call, and we talked about my South Carolina win, President Obama’s State of the Union address and my life,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Among those invited to participate in the conference call were more than 125,000 Florida evangelicals, including 2,400 Florida pastors, said David Lane, the Los Angeles-based founder of Pastors and Pews who organized the event, in a phone interview.

As many as a third of the votes to be cast in Tuesday’s Florida primary may come from evangelicals. In South Carolina last week, where born-again and evangelical voters represented two-thirds of the vote, Mr. Gingrich more than doubled Mr. Romney’s totals with 44 percent of the evangelical vote to 21 percent for Mr. Romney - despite questions raised about the former speaker’s private life and multiple marriages.

Mr. Gingrich said the nearly half-hour teleconference included questions on everything from religious bigotry in America to Mr. Obama’s capital-gains tax proposal.

Jim Garlow, chairman of Renewing American Leadership, moderated Wednesday’s call with what he said were 1,000 participants. A digital recording of the discussion will be emailed to the other 124,000 invitees, Mr. Garlow said.

Other prominent born-again Christians on the call were novelist Tim LaHaye; Concerned Women for America founder Beverly LaHaye; Liberty University Law School Dean Mathew D. Staver; former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts; American Family Association founder Don Wildmon; Hispanic evangelical leader Tony Calatayud; and Barna Research Group founder George Barna.

Evangelicals have so far been unable to unite behind a single candidate in the GOP race. Backing former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are such prominent leaders as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Campaign for Americans founder Gary Bauer.

At a recent Texas summit of conservative Catholics and Protestant evangelicals, Mr. Dobson made remarks about the private lives of Mr. Gingrich and his wife that generated intense resentment among Gingrich supporters. The divided meeting wound up endorsing Mr. Santorum, but Mr. Gingrich nevertheless won South Carolina.

From Atlanta, Mr. Gingrich’s campaign announced on Wednesday its “Florida Gingrich Faith Leaders Coalition, headed by former Florida state Rep. Kurt Kelly.

“The coalition will spearhead faith outreach and events leading up to the Florida primary and for the general election,” campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond said in a press release.

On another front, Mr. Gingrich had sharp words for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the wake of comments hinting she had information that virtually guaranteed her former House colleague will “never” win the GOP nomination.

In an interview Wednesday with The Washington Times-affiliated “America’s Morning News” radio program, Mr. Gingrich challenged Mrs. Pelosi to “put up or shut up,” calling Democratic attacks on his candidacy increasingly “hysterical.”

“I have no idea what she’s talking about, I don’t think she has any idea what she’s talking about. But bring it on,” he said.

David Eldridge contributed to this report from Washington.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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