Newt is “within striking distance” of Mitt Romney in South Carolina, Politico is reporting. Perry’s exit stage left and subsequent endorsement of the former speaker should give him some fuel heading into tonight’s debate. I imagine if Santorum, the newly declared Iowa winner, were to drop out and endorse Newt that he’d have a fighting chance of toppling Mitt Romney in Saturday’s primary.

Of course, the ABC interview with his former wife – the one he had a six-year affair on – won’t help.

She said when Gingrich admitted to a six-year affair with a Congressional aide, he asked her if she would share him with the other woman, Callista, who is now married to Gingrich.

“And I just stared at him and he said, ‘Callista doesn’t care what I do,’” Marianne Gingrich told ABC News. “He wanted an open marriage and I refused.”

Marianne described her “shock” at Gingrich’s behavior, including how she says she learned he conducted his affair with Callista “in my bedroom in ourapartment in Washington.”

“He always called me at night,” she recalled, “and always ended with ‘I love you.’ Well, she was listening.”

Damning stuff, to be sure, but the words of a spurned lover are never given as much credence as they maybe ought to be. And this is old news. Gingrich may indeed be a moral failure, a man whose vanity obscured his many vows and promises. But we all already know this, and he is playing the reformed Christian now, insisting in his own personal regret and redemption. Perhaps it’s true.

All I know is that I hope he wounds Romney in this primary. I started this election off thinking Romney was a decent moderate – not in any way my own pick for president, but not particularly scary either. I no longer believe this. Romney, I’m quite certain now, has no soul. Gingrich may have made bad choices – his soul may be black in a few spots – but he has one. He’s a human being at the very least, warts and all. Romney is a machine at best, a blank slate willing to say and do anything to get elected.

I never thought I’d line up in Gingrich’s defense at all, but the man has more character than Mitt Romney which, I realize, isn’t saying much. At least I know there’s a mind and a person and a very, very big ego underneath Newt’s exterior. With Romney, I have a hard time seeing the man behind the mask.

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