Nightly News   |  January 19, 2012

Newt Gingrich fields questions about his second wife

The former House speaker continues to surge ahead in the polls, even after his second wife said he had wanted an open marriage. NBC’s Ron Mott reports.

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>>> good evening. in case you looked away for just a moment today, here's what happened today in politics. rick perry got out of the race. he endorsed newt gingrich and it was a mostly good day for gingrich until tonight when an interview with his ex-wife will air. in it, she says he once asked her for an open marriage so he could keep his mistress. as for mitt romney , not only did he not get the perry endorsement, it turns out he didn't win the iowa caucuses thanks to a miscount. rick santorum won in iowa, according to the state party. to top it all off, president owe obama gave a speech today at disney world where he met mickey mouse . something for everyone tonight after one of the wildest days in politics in recent memory. we've got it all covered starting with ron mott covering newt gingrich . good evening.

>> reporter: good evening to you. this may well be the most pivotal day of this gop race so far, especially as it relates to newt gingrich . he is clearly on a roll here in south carolina , but his personal past might slam on the brakes. newt gingrich stepped off the bus today with a big endorsement, surging poll numbers and right into questions about his personal life .

>> help me better wrestle with that topic.

>> i've been very open about my life. i've been very open about the mistakes i made. i've been very open about needing to go to god for forgiveness.

>> reporter: on the day when the gingrich campaign seems to have new traction with the striking distance of mitt romney in late polling, backing of rick piry, the marital record could put that record on the skids. gingrich 's second wife mary ann who has been sharply critical of her ex-husband in the past, claims in an interview on "night line" that he asked her to share him with another woman his third wife calista.

>> he was asking to have an open marriage and i refused. that i accept the fact he has someone else in his life.

>> it comes a point when there is a genuine public persona and a private persona, and if they don't mesh that well, i'm i not sure which one is a real one.

>> reporter: this morning gingrich said this of his ex-wife whom he divorced in 1999 .

>> i'm not going to say anything negative about mary ann . my two daughters, kathy and jackie have sent a letter to the president of abc news saying from a family perspective they think this is totally wrong.

>> reporter: later on the campaign trail, he was more direct.

>> yes, that's my answer.

>> reporter: this couple says gingrich won their support no matter.

>> i would prefer to have a president that has made and acknowledged mistakes and learned from mistakes.

>> we all have a past. to me, it's not that important.

>> reporter: meantime, mitt romney found himself asking prickly questions, as well, about being a member of the nation's richest 1%.

>> how can you support the nation's 99% when you're part of the 1%?

>> let me tell you something, america is a great nation because we are a united nation . those trying to divide our nation as you're trying to do here and our president is doing are hurting this country seriously.

>> reporter: perhaps more pressure on mitt romney tonight. speaker gingrich says he will release his tax records this evening hoping governor romney will do the same, not in april but before south carolina votes on saturday.

>> ron mott starting us off