Newt Gingrich insists he’s not a ‘Washington figure’

Holly Bailey

Newt Gingrich insisted Monday that he's not a "Washington figure," and cast himself as an outsider candidate promoting change ahead of next year's 2012 GOP presidential primary.

The former House speaker, who described himself as "the people's candidate," made the declaration during a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor--his 36th appearance at the event during his more than 30 year political career in Washington.

"The reports of my campaign's death were highly exaggerated," the 2012 hopeful declared, per ABC News's Arlette Saenz. "I am not a Washington figure despite the years I've been here. I'm essentially an American whose ties are across the country and whose interest is how do you change Washington, not how do you make Washington happy."

Gingrich's comments come as he tries to recover from a rough week on the campaign trail. Last week, he came under fire from Republicans for likening Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal to "right-wing social engineering." He later apologized for the comment, only to insist later he wasn't even talking about Ryan in the first place.

On Monday, Gingrich continued to modify his position, telling reporters that he now believes Ryan's proposal is a good "beginning of the conversation."

The former House speaker also defended another controversy that popped up last week: Reports that he owed between $250,000 and $500,000 to the tony jeweler Tiffany and Company.

In an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Gingrich defended the bill, insisting he and his wife are "debt free" and insisted he lives a "frugal" life--an answer he reiterated Monday at the Monitor breakfast. He told reporters he is "totally mystified" about why it's an issue.

"I owe no personal debts. None," Gingrich said. "If Obama followed our pattern of fiscal responsibility, the United States would currently be running a surplus and buying back debt from the Chinese."

(Photo of Gingrich: Chris Usher/CBS News via AP)