SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Smash. Sizzle. Savor. That was the slogan of the flashy start-up burger joint where Callista Gingrich made her solo debut on the campaign trail -- hardly an obvious choice for the willowy and well-coifed spouse, dressed in an azure blue jacket and matching pencil skirt. But with her husband’s numbers falling in national polls, Callista is adopting the role of good will ambassador for the campaign and easing herself into the spotlight.
“Newt and I are engaged in this race because we believe America is at a crossroads and care deeply about the future of this country,” Callista said to a intimate gathering of about 30 people, reading from prepared remarks. “There are only a few months left before the most important election in our lifetime. Our only opponent is Barack Obama, and we are committed to removing him from the White House.”
If Newt Gingrich’s extramarital affairs have been the topic of public scrutiny for much of his campaign, then Callista, supporters say, has served as the public buffer standing quietly at her husband’s side during his stump speeches. When a blogger asked after a rally whether she and her husband believed in an open marriage, Callista was caught on video casually laughing off the question when she said no, while her husband gave a much curter, sterner response.
Any hint of scandal was absent from the introduction given Tuesday by Lynn Ann Reagan, president of the San Diego County Federation of American. Reagan focused on Callista’s accomplishments, which included her graduation as high school valedictorian, achievements as a musician, and career on Capitol Hill. “It’s time to move on,” Reagan explained to Fox News when asked to explain how she crafted her remarks.
And while Callista spoke for just five minutes Tuesday, praising the virtues of the city of San Diego and thanking the audience for their support, she left a positive impression among the attendees, whose hands she shook afterward.
“She’s a gifted person. With her understanding of the arts, it brings a loveliness to our country, so I hope she’s the first lady,” said Judy Wade, sister to Pastor Jim Garlow, an in fluential pastor who has endorsed Gingrich.
Taking questions from reporters after her speech, Callista displayed a keen understanding of the campaign strategy moving forward.
“We’re looking towards Super Tuesday, I think we’ve got some good states -- Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio. It could be good for Newt. So, we’re encouraged, we’re working, and -- as I said earlier, this race has been a rollercoaster and so we’re just going to keep working as hard as we can.”
Grace Lee, a Korean-American real estate agent who is the national coordinator for Asian Americans for Newt Gingrich, was the first to show up for Callista’s speech. At 9 a.m., she and her husband were hanging up a banner and setting up flyers they had designed and printed themselves.
“Made from my heart,” she said when she described them as her personal donation to the campaign.
“They look beautiful, thank you so much,” Callista said to Lee after the event, complimenting the graphic design and evoking the glow of pride from her supporter.