DES MOINES, Iowa – With his presidential campaign drifting out of contention, Newt Gingrich veered from his typically brash, boastful personality on the campaign trail Friday, choking up in front of a group of moms when he recalled his mother, Kit, who died in 2003.
“I identify my mother with being happy, loving life, having a sense of joy in her friends,” said Gingrich when moderator Frank Luntz asked him to recall a moment with his mom. At the end of her life, Gingrich said, his mother lived in a long-term-care facility, which helped him understand and get interested in brain science, a subject dear to his heart.
He frequently tells voters here that he recently gave a lecture on brain science at the University of Iowa.
“She had bipolar disease and depression and she gradually acquired some physical ailments, and that introduced me to the whole issue of quality long-term care … and that introduced me to the issue of Alzheimer’s,” said Gingrich, who chatted with the founder of a popular website for mothers at Java’s Joe’s coffeehouse here.
“My emphasis on brain science comes indirectly from dealing with …,” he said, then his voice broke and his eyes welled with tears. “See, I am getting very emotional, but dealing with the real problems of real people in my family. And so it’s not a theory, it’s in fact, my mother.”
As tears spilled, he said, “I do policy much easier than I do personal.”
The moment recalled one in 2008 when a woman in New Hampshire asked Hillary Clinton what motivated her to keep campaigning every day. Clinton, who had just finished a humiliating third in Iowa, grew emotional as she described her fear for the nation’s future. It was a rare moment of vulnerability for the now-secretary of state, and came right before her upset win in New Hampshire.
Gingrich could use such a surprise. He was once a front-runner in Iowa but has been sinking in the polls, and placed fifth at 13 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers in an NBC/Marist poll released Friday, with 35 percent saying he would be unacceptable as the GOP nominee.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney led with 23 percent, followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul with 21 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry had 15 percent and 14 percent respectively.
Romney, acting as the presumptive nominee on the stump in West Des Moines, did not mention his GOP rivals, instead seeking to cast President Barack Obama as out of touch with the economic pain being felt by average Americans.
“He’s in Hawaii right now. We’re in the cold, in the rain, in the wind because we care about America,” Romney said, speaking to several hundred supporters in the parking lot of a grocery store. “He just finished his 90th round of golf. We have 25 million Americans who are out of work, stopped looking for work or are underemployed.”