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Gingrich confession: Clearing the way for a 2008 run?

Story Highlights

• Former speaker led charge against Clinton over Monica Lewinsky affair
• Potential '08 candidate discusses issue with conservative Christian group
• Republican may enter 2008 presidential race
• Leading Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani, also had an affair
From Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former House speaker and potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has confessed, telling conservative Christian leader James Dobson that he was cheating on his wife at around the same time the House was impeaching President Bill Clinton over his White House affair with Monica Lewinsky.

But Gingrich said that didn't make him a hypocrite, because Clinton was impeached not for the affair, but for lying about it.

"The president of the United States got in trouble for committing a felony in front of a sitting federal judge," the Georgia Republican told Dobson in an interview posted Friday on Dobson's Focus on the Family Web site. (Listen to Gingrich admit he had an affair Video)

The House impeached Clinton in December 1998, and he was acquitted by the Senate the following year.

Still, Gingrich's confession could be damage control for his possible presidential race. He has said he will decide about a run for the White House this fall, after he surveys the Republican field.

If he runs, he can treat the affair as an issue he has already dealt with.

Gingrich isn't the only candidate or potential candidate with some messy marriage and divorce issues. Like Gingrich, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been married three times. He's currently the Republican front-runner in the presidential derby.

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, condemned Giuliani's behavior, calling his break-up with his second wife "divorce on steroids."

"I'm a human being," Giuliani told CNN's Larry King in an interview. "I make mistakes. I'm not perfect."

But Gingrich, who just published a book called "Rediscovering God in America," tapped a religious leader for his confession and expressed repentance.

"There are things in my own life that I have turned to God and have gotten on my knees and prayed about and sought God's forgiveness," he told Dobson.

Gingrich's first marriage ended after he discussed the details of the divorce with his wife while she was recovering from cancer surgery. He married again in 1981 and was divorced in 2000, when he married the young congressional aide with whom he had the affair.

So, will religious voters forgive Gingrich? Dobson seemed inclined to think so.

"I think it's really important and will be for many of our listeners to know your responses to that point of disappointment back there someplace, and I really appreciate your willingness to do so," Dobson told Gingrich.

Critics are likely to call the lot of them hypocrites, however, noting that religious conservatives make allowances for people they agree with politically, like Gingrich, but not for Giuliani or Clinton.



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