Lynn Ann Reagan-Jamison, president of a Republican women’s group in San Diego, described how Newt Gingrich and Callista Bisek met when he was the House minority whip and she was an intern for another congressman. “Fate,” she said, kept Bisek from attending journalism school and instead directed her toward her future husband.
What the introduction did not include was this delicate detail: Newt Gingrich was married to his second wife at the time; Bisek was in her late 20s and Gingrich in his early 50s. Their affair lasted seven years. And its memory lives on today, an unspoken liability that makes the Gingrich campaign handlers nervous and perhaps explains Callista Gingrich’s reticence until now.
With the Gingrich campaign at a crossroads, the candidate’s wife is finally starting to emerge, slowly, as a public figure in her own right. It may be a peculiar moment to do so: Her husband is struggling to regain momentum after a string of losses since his single victory, in South Carolina. The latest polls cast the Republican nominating contest as a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Aides say they have pressed Callista Gingrich to take a more public role for months, and she has long promised to do so. Ultimately, the timing has less to do with strategy than with Callista Gingrich’s readiness, they said.
When she did speak, Callista Gingrich said little, reading her remarks from a typed sheet while following the large, spaced words with her ruby-painted index finger. Her sculpted blond hair, bright-blue suit and gold-and-diamond necklace reinforced her carefully crafted look as a political wife. “Over the last few months, the campaign has been wild,” she told the Republican women. “We’ve been on a real roller-coaster ride, as front-runners seem to come and go.”
Her voice was soft, and she repeated phrases invoked regularly by her husband — that this is “the most important election of our lifetime,” that America “is at a crossroads.” She greeted women for about half an hour, posed for pictures and signed autographs with the fat-tipped blue Sharpie she makes an aide carry at all times.
Still, even her brief appearance and canned remarks were a revelation. By being silent for so many months, Callista Gingrich has only fueled a public fascination with her. Most of the time, she stands quietly behind her husband as he holds forth, her unmoving flaxen hair framing her stiff, smiling face. Where Ann Romney has taken to introducing her husband on election nights, Callista Gingrich’s voice is unfamiliar to most Americans.
The question for her now is whether a higher profile will help her husband’s cause or merely increase the demand for more answers about the early stages of their relationship.