Wife cited in exodus of Gingrich advisers

Callista Gingrich (left) has been cited as a key factor in the staff revolt Thursday in which 16 aides and advisers left the presidential campaign of her husband, Newt Gingrich.

ATLANTA --- Callista Gingrich has been a near constant presence at her husband's side, a visible symbol that the twice-divorced House speaker is now a devoted family man.

But Gingrich's third wife also is being cited by people close to him as a key factor in the staff revolt that has left his presidential campaign on life support.

At least 16 aides and advisers abandoned the Gingrich campaign Thursday, an unprecedented exodus that has cast doubt on his viability as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Gingrich has pledged to push forward with his campaign and is set to offer a foreign policy address to a Jewish Republican group in Los Angeles on Sunday. It's a speech that Gingrich hopes will reset his White House bid.

In the implosion's aftermath, officials close to the Gingrich campaign privately pointed fingers at Callista Gingrich as the source of the tension between her husband and his staff. They say she exerted enormous influence on the former House speaker, controlling his schedule and encouraging him to disappear on a luxury cruise in the Greek Isles just weeks after he got into the race. That trip was the final straw, for some, who pleaded with him not to go.

These officials said Gingrich ceded to his wife's wishes, which sometimes involved his curtailing necessary time on the campaign trail in key states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private campaign business.

As criticism mounted, the candidate defended his wife's involvement, saying that the two of them "make decisions as a couple."

Several people involved in the campaign said Callista Gingrich was not the only problem.

Since Gingrich entered the race this spring, fundraising has been anemic and the combative former congressman has strayed off message, most memorably in his NBC Meet the Press interview just days after entering the race in which he bashed a Republican budget plan that had passed the House as "right-wing social engineering."

But Gingrich sometimes seemed more interested in placating his wife than serious campaigning. He would be late to meetings with donors because his wife needed some time at a hotel to freshen up. He would try to book trips so he could be home in time for his wife's choir practice.

Admirable in a husband. But perhaps incompatible with the grueling schedule needed of a serious presidential candidate.

From the start, Gingrich put his wife front and center in the campaign, answering questions with "Callista and I" and featuring her picture prominently on his Web site. To a certain degree, it seemed an attempt to prove to social conservatives and other Republicans skeptical of him for his adulterous past. Gingrich, 67, has acknowledged he carried on an affair with Callista when he was speaker of the House and she worked at the House Agriculture Committee.

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