NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- A sex scandal is like political dynamite. It can destroy not only its target, but anything else it touches.
So while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich angrily--and perhaps successfully--deflects explosive allegations of infidelity from his ex-wife Marianne Gingrich, his opponents and their surrogates try to do their best to let the charges go off with as little prodding as possible..
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney declined a chance to hit Gingrich over the allegations during last night's GOP debate in Charleston, S.C., but not all of his surrogates did.
"Everybody's going to have to decide for themselves," says former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, previously a presidential contender who is now endorsing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "As for me, when I see his ex-wife Marianne on TV expressing those kind of concerns, it certainly concerns me."
Pawlenty was speaking shortly after the debate, in the so-called post-debate spin room.
Marianne Gingrich claimed in an explosive ABC television interview that her ex-husband wanted an open marriage, capping off a day of blockbuster political revelations.
Others found more forceful ways to make their point.
"The ability of someone to govern themselves may reflect how they would govern the nation," says South Carolina State Sen. Larry Grooms, a supporter of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Gingrich received a standing ovation from the GOP crowd after he angrily denounced CNN debate moderator John King for opening the debate with a question regarding his ex-wife's claims. The other debate participants, for the most part, laid off the issue. But both Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Romney noted their decades of marriage as part of their qualifications, which many interpreted as a subtle dig at Gingrich's personal woes.
Some Gingrich supporters admitted that it was a legitimate issue of inquiry during a campaign—though they still agreed with Gingrich that King was out of line with his question.
"I can't say it was out of bounds, but I do think it was a very distasteful way to start off the debate," says former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, a supporter of former House Speaker Gingrich, who added that he felt he wasn't "qualified" to judge Gingrich based on the allegations, because he didn't have all of the information.
"In my world, either you believe in the Damascus Road experience, or you don't," he says.