PORTSMOUTH, N.H.— In Washington, pundits and campaign watchers can’t stop talking about Newt Gingrich’s pricey purchases at the luxury jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co., which granted him and his wife up to $500,000 in no-interest credit two years in a row.
But here in this seacoast town on Thursday morning, a group of Republican women had a different question for the presidential candidate: If anyone brings up the Tiffany issue, can we boo them?
As it turns out, they never got their chance. During the former House speaker’s two-day campaign swing through New Hampshire, the roughly 600 people who came to see him were largely uninterested in his jewelry-buying habits. Nor did they ask about his criticism — since retracted — of a GOP plan to replace Medicare insurance with vouchers.
Instead, the crowds heard Gingrich declare at nearly every stop that his campaign is alive and well, casting himself as a “comeback kid” — a moniker once widely applied to his old nemesis Bill Clinton.
“Look what happened to me over the last 10 days: We had every Washington analyst, except one, explain that my campaign was dead,” he said at one stop. “I just relaxed. They were in a feeding frenzy, they had to get it out of their system, and I knew they would eventually calm down. The trick is, we need to stay focused on talking about what matters for America.”
The Granite State was a welcome respite for Gingrich from Washington, where it seems that diamonds are definitely not a politician’s best friend.
Gingrich’s Tiffany troubles began last week after Politico unearthed congressional disclosure records filed by his third wife, Callista, showing that the couple owed $250,001 to $500,000 to the jewelry company in 2005 and 2006. Other news outlets noted that Tiffany actively lobbied on mining issues during that time, and that a lobbyist representing Tiffany worked as a House aide to Gingrich in the 1990s.
Carson Glover, Tiffany’s worldwide media relations director, said in a statement Thursday that “there is nothing unusual or extraordinary” about the 12-month, no-interest credit terms granted to Gingrich in 2005 and 2006. He said the debt was paid in full, and that more than 1,000 customers received similar terms last year.
Documents show that the jewelry company has focused most of its lobbying on the House Natural Resources Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the General Mining Act of 1872 and related issues. Callista Gingrich worked on the House Agriculture Committee.
Glover said no representative of Tiffany or its lobbying firm, Cassidy & Associates, ever discussed mining issues with Gingrich or his wife. Christy Evans, a former Newt Gingrich aide who now lobbies on behalf of Tiffany at Cassidy, did not respond to a request for comment.
The extent of Gingrich’s personal wealth is unclear, because he has not filed a financial disclosure form as a presidential candidate. In her last congressional disclosure for 2006, Gingrich’s wife reported that the couple had assets worth $1 million to $2.5 million.
At a tea party-sponsored event in New Hampshire on Thursday, Gingrich seemed to relish the opportunity to answer a question from a reporter about whether the Tiffany issue will hurt his campaign.
“I want you all to notice, finally, the citizens having failed to raise the most important question of the day. I was asked about a charge account at Tiffany’s,” he said, standing before a crowd of about 200 people, who laughed at his sarcasm. “Now, I’m grateful that somebody here finally had the courage to go to one of the hot-button issues that will change America’s future.”
Eggen reported from Washington.