Newt Gingrich usually seems to jump into controversy head-first with a smile on. But the former House speaker stepped forward as an unexpected voice of moderation Friday night on the white-hot controversy over women’s access to contraception, telling the Daily Beast that no one—at least, not Gingrich—is looking for a way to impede women's access to birth control.
“It’s not a question of access. Nobody here is suggesting cutting off access,” he said after a campaign rally in his home state of Georgia.
Like Rick Santorum, Gingrich is now a devout Catholic, but he did not agree with Santorum’s past statements about “the dangers of contraception” and the former senator’s belief that contraception “is not OK.”
“I’m not a medical doctor,” Gingrich said, when asked if he agreed that birth control is dangerous, as Santorum said in October. “And it’s not a topic I’m going to get in the middle of.”
Gingrich instead criticized the Obama administration’s recent ruling (which has since been modified) requiring church-affiliated organizations to fully fund health coverage for contraception for their female employees even if the practice is against the churches’ teachings.
“Once you cross that threshold,” he said, “Once you accept the idea that the government can in fact basically say you cannot be a faithful Catholic as defined by the Catholic church, you can’t be a faithful Mormon, you can’t be an Orthodox Jew, you can’t be a fundamentalist Christian. At what point does it stop?”
Gingrich made the comments the day after Santorum campaign super-funder Foster Freiss ignited a firestorm when he joked to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he did not understand why the issue of health coverage for birth control had gotten to be such a big deal recently. Back in his day, he explained to Mitchell’s astonishment, a Bayer aspirin between the knees did the trick.
Friess apologized Friday, while Santorum spent his time scrambling to explain away his biggest donor’s bizarre joke. Santorum also joined Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in backing out of a CNN debate scheduled to take place in Georgia days before Super Tuesday, when Gingrich admitted a win at home is “very crucial.”
Speaking to a rowdy crowd of 200 or so assembled in a chilly airport hangar, Gingrich taunted the three candidates to man up and come to Georgia to debate him on his home turf, knowing that the trio’s withdrawal from the debate would deny him a crucial chance to excel in his best forum before the 10-state contest on March 6.
“If you are afraid to debate Newt Gingrich,” he said. “You sure can’t debate Barack Obama.”
Thrilled with the fighting words, supporters called out “Newwwwwt!” while two men dressed in enormous chicken suits and wearing Romney and Santorum T-shirts wandered through the crowd with posters reading, “I’m chicken to debate Newt.”
Polyester chicken suits and headline-grabbing debate moments come cheap, but TV airtime in Georgia’s 11 media markets does not. Romney just put down a cool $1 million to buy ads in the state, which holds the biggest delegate haul on Super Tuesday, with 76. Gingrich, on the other hand, has bought no TV time so far, indicating that even with a reported $2 million haul from a California fundraising trip this week, resources are a little thin.
All of that could change if the rumors are true and Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner from Las Vegas, is about to give another $10 million to the super PAC supporting Gingrich’s campaign. Although Gingrich hammered Romney’s super PAC for running what he called “totally dishonest and false” ads against him in Georgia, Gingirch aides could not confirm the donation and the candidate himself said he has no idea what Adelson is up to. “Sheldon Adelson will do whatever he wants to do.”