An unusually emotional moment occurred on the campaign trail today: Former House speaker Newt Gingrich teared up during an Iowa town hall while talking about his late mother.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who moderated the event, asked Gingrich, with reference to the impact on his policies and beliefs, “When you think of your mom, what special moment comes to mind?”

“You’ll get me all teary-eyed,” Gingrich responded. And in fact he repeatedly wiped away tears as he talked about his mother. “I identify my mother with being happy, loving life,” he said. But late in her life, he continued, “she had bipolar disease and depression . . . and that introduced me to the issue of quality long-term care.”

He choked up as he concluded, “And my whole emphasis on brain science comes in directly from dealing with the real problems of real people in my family.”

He added, “ I do policy much easier than I do personal.”

Regarding some of his personal problems, Gingrich said, “I’ve talked to [the people he’s hurt over the years]. I’ve tried to express my sadness to them.”

While crying in politics is usually seen as a negative (with failed 1972 presidential candidate Ed Muskie as evidence), showing emotion on the campaign trail can be a good thing. Voters responded sympathetically when Hillary Rodham Clinton teared up on the campaign trail in 2008. And the crowd in Iowa was very receptive, with audible “awws” as Gingrich got emotional.

Gingrich was speaking in front of a crowd of about 100 Iowa mothers, in an event at at Java Joe’s Coffee House organized by the bipartisan online group CafeMom.

The former speaker, who experienced a brief surge in Iowa this fall, has been steadily sinking in polls over the past few weeks.