New Hampshire primary
Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attending a campaign stop in Nashua. Photo by Reuters
Text size

The claws came out at the start of Thursday's Republican debate in South Carolina as second-placed Newt Gingrich railed against the U.S. media.

Moderator John King of CNN opened the debate by asking Gingrich about an ex-wife's recent allegation that he asked her for an "open marriage" so he could continue an affair with a mistress.

"I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that," said a feisty Gingrich, pointing a finger at King, who stood several feet from the podium.

To bring up such an issue in a crucial presidential debate is "close to despicable," adding that he was "astounded" that CNN would ask such a question, which he referred to as "trash."

The debate ahead of Saturday's South Carolina primary came as the field of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination narrowed and three remaining challengers sought to oust frontrunner Mitt Romney.

Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out of the race Thursday morning and endorsed former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. Perry's exit winnows the field of challengers and increases the chance that conservatives could rally behind an alternative candidate to the moderate Romney.

Polls show Gingrich catching up with Romney ahead of the vote
Saturday in the conservative state, but he must now fend off fallout from a tell-all interview about his divorce from second wife, Marianne.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and Texas Congressman Ron Paul also remain in the running.