One of the puzzles of the Republican presidential campaign is Newt Gingrich's appeal to religious conservatives. The irony is that Gingrich, a Catholic convert who has had three marriages, is outperforming Romney, a lifelong Mormon and family man. In fact, less than a month before the Iowa caucuses, the former speaker of the House has three times the support of evangelicals in that state that Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, does.
Newt Gingrich was in his 20s when he was hired at West Georgia College as a history professor. He had just returned from Belgium, where he was doing research for his doctoral dissertation.
"He was very much a person of intellect," says Mel Steeley, who taught history at the college for four decades and helped bring Gingrich to the school in 1970. "He would wander across campus and didn't notice people. He'd have something in his mind, always be thinking about something. When he first came, you kind of wondered if he was a student or a professor."
In the crowded race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney may be the tortoise, but Newt Gingrich is the newt. And newts are highly adaptive salamanders that regenerate limbs when wounded and emit poison when challenged.
Conventional — and up-to-the-minute contemporary — wisdom pegs Gingrich as the ascendant favorite, knocking other candidates off their posts and platforms like an Angry Bird.