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Newt Gingrich faces tough questions about race, food-stamp comments

The State:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Eight days after saying he would have black Americans demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps, Newt Gingrich faced tough questioning from a mostly-black audience at Jones Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday afternoon.

One audience member asked if Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, was a racist or a bigot.

Gingrich, 68, had dropped the names of a few prominent black Americans as he discussed how he would work to create jobs and help establish a "habit" of work among children in poor communities. The former speaker noted that he had traveled around the country with the Rev. Al Sharpton to discuss the importance of charter schools.

The name-dropping, however, didn't mollify many audience members, who peppered Gingrich with questions about why Republicans have refused to work with President Barack Obama, how working can prepare young blacks for higher education, and why bipartisanship would suddenly reign if Gingrich won the presidency.

One woman pointedly asked Gingrich if traveling with Sharpton had any impact on him.

"Does that change your way of thinking, or are you still known throughout the country as a racist and a bigot?" the woman asked.

Gingrich said he is not known as a racist or a bigot, but the woman persisted in her tough questioning, reminding Gingrich of his characterization of Obama as "the food stamp president."

"Do you still think of President Obama as the food stamp president?" the woman asked. "How can you say that?"

Gingrich didn't back down.

"I say that because more Americans today are on food stamps than ever before," Gingrich said.

Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, back up Gingrich's assertion. 

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