The Long March of Newt Gingrich: Part Three
Follow @smoughtsDecember 20, 2011, 10:51 am ET
This week, FRONTLINE is putting up excerpts from our 1996 biography, The Long March of Newt Gingrich. Watch part one, part two and part four.
By the mid-1960s, Newt was living with his wife and two little girls in New Orleans, working on a PhD in history at Tulane. The 1960s pushed him towards the liberal end of the Republican Party; as a professor, he became a devotee of futurist Alvin Toffler, taught a course at the Free University, helped organize a protest against censorship and worked on Nelson Rockefeller’s campaign against his old hero Richard Nixon.
Newt’s academic colleagues were surprised when he left Tulane to take a teaching job at West Georgia College, but his decision was calculated: Georgia’s sixth congressional district would be the perfect place from which to launch his political career.
In 1974, Newt launched his first campaign, running as a liberal Republican reformer, embraced by environmentalists, against Democratic incumbent Jack Flynt, who was entrenched in the Southern Democratic establishment. Newt lost the election, but won 49 percent of the vote. He lost a second close race against Flynt in 1976, swept aside in Jimmy Carter’s southern landslide.
By 1978, Jack Flynt had retired; his new opponent was moderate Democrat Virginia Shapard. Newt called in professional consultants from Washington, recasting himself as a conservative and launching a ruthless campaign. He outlined his new vision of politics in a speech to College Republicans:
Gingrich relentlessly attacked Shapard, accusing her of coddling welfare cheaters and exploiting her announcement that if elected, she would commute to Washington by having his wife Jackie write a letter to voters saying that Newt was a good husband who would take his family with him to D.C. At the time, their marriage was falling apart and several campaign workers say Newt was seeing other women. A little more than a year after the election, Newt demanded a divorce. Six months later he married his second wife, Marianne Ginther.
Bonus: Vanity Fair‘s Gail Sheehy interviewed Gingrich and his family for “The Inner Life of Newt Gingrich,” a September 1995 profile of Newt’s wars, his women and his contract with himself.
Produced by Steve Talbot, The Long March of Newt Gingrich was a co-production with the Center for Investigative Reporting.
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