DES MOINES, Iowa — At Java Joe’s, a coffee shop in downtown Des Moines decorated with pictures of presidential candidates past, Newt Gingrich said he’s changed.
“I would say that I am a sadder and slower person than I was 25 years ago,” Gingrich said in response to a question that alluded to his past marital problems. “Twenty-five years ago, I thought that if you just kept moving fast enough, somehow everything would always work. And I’ve learned a lot of limitations in life, that in fact, sometimes it doesn’t work.”
“I don’t ask people to vote on whether they approve of my entire life,” Gingrich said. “What I ask you to look at is a 68-year-old grandfather who has spent 53 years studying what this country needs and how to get it done.”
Indeed, some voters in the audience say that Gingrich’s personal past doesn’t mean much to them.
“None of us can throw a stone, ok?” said Maria Murphey from Des Moines. As long as Gingrich has asked God for forgiveness and isn’t continuing with his past behavior, then he’s good in Murphey’s book.
Others, including Georgia Musfeldt from Ankeny, say that other aspects of his past, including his consulting work for Freddie Mac, could come back to haunt him during Tuesday’s caucuses.
“Considering how high he was in the polls to where he is now, I think Iowans have had a chance to think about it,” she said. “They’re tired of the corruption.”
Gingrich was the leading candidate in Iowa just a few weeks ago, but he has dropped in the polls. In early December, some surveys had Gingrich snagging as much as 30 percent of the Republican vote here. Today, his Real Clear Politics average is 14 percent, coming in third or fourth place.
A barrage of negative ads airing here against Gingrich may have contributed to his decline. During his talk, Gingrich said he would be “ashamed” to run any of those spots.
One points out that he once supported a cap-and-trade plan to curb global warming, something the largely female group at Java Joe’s wanted to hear more about.
In response to a question about how Gingrich would assure the mothers in the room that he would preserve a clean environment for their children, Gingrich said that he’s all for preserving clean air and water.
“But I’m for cleaning them up at a rational level, in a way that’s economically sustainable,” he said. “What I wouldn’t do is allow the [Environmental Protection Agency] to crush the electricity industry in this country, which will drive all manufacturing out of the United State and kill several million more jobs.”
Another question came from a teacher who said she belongs to a union only for legal protections. Otherwise, she’s not happy that some ineffective teachers are able to keep their jobs.
In response Gingrich said that states should adopt co-op insurance programs that compete with insurance offered by unions.
“That way you wouldn’t have to be a union member in order to get the protection you need,” which artificially boosts union membership, Gingrich said.
With the all-important “electability” question defining this year’s Iowa caucuses, the audience also wanted to know how Gingrich planned to attract both Democratic and Independent voters in the general election.
Gingrich said he will draw on his past experience campaigning: keep things positive and pick issues that most Americans can agree on.
Take federal food assistance, Gingrich said.
“President Obama has been the most successful food stamp president in history,” he said. “I don’t mean that as an attack, I mean that as a fact.”