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Gingrich marriage a key debate issue

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich reacts to a

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich reacts to a question at the start of the Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C. (Jan. 19, 2012) Credit: AP

An angry Newt Gingrich criticized the media at the start of last night's Republican presidential debate for focusing on questions about his personal life, including allegations that he asked for an "open marriage" with his second wife.

"The destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office," the former House speaker said.

"I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that," he said in a comment directed at the debate's sole moderator, John King of CNN. Gingrich's response drew applause from the debate's audience.

King asked the three other Republican candidates on the stage whether they thought it should be a campaign issue.

"These are issues of our lives and what we did in our lives are issues of character to consider," former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said. "But the bottom line is those are things for everyone in this audience to look at."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said the conversation should move on. "John, let's get on to the real issues is all I got to say," he said.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said all of the candidates have faced attacks and incorrect news stories, adding, "I think setting standards is very important and I'm very proud that my wife of 54 years is with me tonight."

Romney, 64, won the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary by 16 percentage points over his nearest rival, Paul, and is looking to retain his status as the Republican front-runner in South Carolina.

A win in the state's primary Saturday would give him momentum heading into Florida's Jan. 31 contest, and a victory there could position him to quickly secure the nomination.

Santorum played aggressor for much of the night. He accused Gingrich and Romney of "playing footsies with the left" when it came to health care. Both men rejected the allegations.

First Gingrich and then Santorum challenged Romney over his well-documented switch of position on abortion. He now says he is "pro-life."

Romney bristled. "I'm not questioned on character or integrity very often. I don't feel like standing here for that."

With AP

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