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Religious affiliation has always played a prominent role in the vetting of US presidential candidates, especially for those seeking the nomination of the Republican Party. Candidates within that party must appeal to fiscal, foreign policy and social conservatives, the last of which contain significant numbers of self-described evangelical Christians. During the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary appeals to these social conservatives became as significant a factor as any other with a Mormon candidate, a Catholic candidate who made his faith a centerpiece of his campaign, and a divorced former Speaker who recently converted to Catholicism. With the race still very much in the air, this former Speaker, Newt Gingrich, came under fire for his prior marriage and just a few days before a pivotal primary in South Carolina his ex-wife taped an interview about his marriage to her which was set to air immediately after the last debate before the election in South Carolina. At the beginning of the debate the moderator, John King of CNN, provided Gingrich an opportunity to discuss the pending interview. His response changed the scope of that primary election, helping vault Gingrich to a significant victory in South Carolina with significant support from formerly hesitant social conservatives. In this essay we examine his response to King’s opening question at the debate through the lens of image restoration theory and argue Gingrich used specific strategies to appeal for support from the social conservatives in that state.

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Valenzano III, J.M., Edwards, J.A. (2012). The Debate Confessional: Newt Gingrich, John King and Atoning for Past Sins. Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric, 2(2), 30-38.

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