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Infidelity, divorce, and Newt Gingrich: Can voters get past his record?

At a time when half of marriages end in divorce, it may be that GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich can overcome his checkered marital history of infidelity and divorce. Or not.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks at the CBS News/National Journal foreign policy debate at the Benjamin Johnson Arena, Saturday in Spartanburg, S.C.

Richard Shiro/AP

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Ronald Reagan was America's only divorced president. And several men who occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – Bill Clinton perhaps most notably in contemporary times – were unfaithful to their spouses. 

But there’s only one candidate seeking the nation’s highest office this year who has both knocks against him: Republican Newt Gingrich. 

Mr. Gingrich’s opponents are bound to make an issue of it. Politico reported Tuesday that guests staying in a Des Moines hotel found a flier slipped under their doors from a group calling itself Christian Leaders in Government. It asked: “If Newt Gingrich can’t be faithful to his wife, how can we trust him to be faithful to conservative voters?”

Anonymous slander campaigns aren’t a new thing, especially in contests in early caucus and primary states. True or not, they can pick up steam there, and groups like the as-yet-unidentifiable organization – or maybe individual – responsible for the Gingrich flier can do damage before anyone knows who is behind the effort. But in 2012, with voters concerned about a series of serious pocketbook issues, from jobs to taxes to health insurance, will they be swayed by the personal shortcomings of the candidates? And if they are, how does Gingrich address the matter in a thoughtful way that satisfies Americans?

If Gingrich were to secure the nomination – he is rivaling presumed front-runner Mitt Romney in recent national polls despite a financial and organizational disadvantage – he would surely have to discuss his past personal choices, say campaign watchers.

“He’s going to have to address it,” says David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale. “I think it will come up. It’s part of his narrative and his story, and he’s going to have to talk about it.” 

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