Dogged by talk of his failed marriages, Gingrich plays up his faith and family life

Holly Bailey

As he moves closer toward a 2012 presidential bid, Newt Gingrich is working hard to overcome what could be a major stumbling block with GOP voters: His two failed marriages that ended, in part, because of his infidelity.

Gingrich has repeatedly apologized for his "mistakes" and has made his third wife, Callista, a prominent part of his so far unofficial presidential campaign. And in interviews this week, the former House Speaker has gone even further in efforts to recast his image, describing himself as a "grandfather" who has worked hard to atone for his sins with God.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, Gingrich suggested his infidelities were fueled, in part, by his personal political ambitions and the fact he "worked too hard."

"I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness. Not God's understanding, but God's forgiveness," Gingrich said, adding that he believes in a "forgiving God." "Somebody once said that when we're young, we seek justice, but as we get older, we seek mercy. I think there's something to that. I'm a grandfather …  I have a great marriage. I think that I've learned an immense amount."

Gingrich tells Brody that he believes God has forgiven him for his infidelities, in part because he's now "blessed" with a new life. "As a person, I've had the opportunity to have a wonderful life, to find myself now, truly enjoying the depths of my life in ways that I never dreamed it was possible to have a life that was that nice," he said.

In other words, Gingrich is working very hard to suggest he's no longer the person he used to be—a message that is key to convincing evangelical voters, who have long been skeptical about the former speaker, to overcome their doubts about his past transgressions.

It won't be easy. As Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen writes, Gingrich is perhaps the best known of all the potential 2012 GOP candidates and his image is already largely cemented among GOP voters. While a majority of Republicans view him favorably, Gingrich trails Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin in most polls—numbers that haven't changed much in recent months.

To move up in the upper echelon of 2012 candidate, Gingrich will have to improve his "likability" numbers among GOP voters—which is perhaps why the former House Speaker is looking to play up his family life ahead of his official run.

Still, PPP's numbers suggests there's not much room to grow.  "Our numbers just don't suggest much of a path for Gingrich," Jensen writes.

(Photo of Gingrich with his wife, Callista: Mike Stewart/AP)