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Gingrich explains personal 'mistakes,' rejects charges of racist undertones

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that voters are entitled to ask questions about the “mistakes” he has made in his personal life but said he’s confident that many social conservatives will back him in his 2012 presidential bid.

Gingrich, who has been married three times and has admitted to past extramarital affairs, said on NBC’s Meet the Press that Americans should look to the "strong marriage" he has with his current wife, Callista, and consider the “forgiveness” he sought from God for his personal transgressions.  

“Every American has the right to ask these questions,” he said. “I have made mistakes in my life. I have had to go to God for forgiveness and to seek reconciliation. And I ask them to look at who I am today."

            Watch video of clip here.

The former House Speaker said many conservative Republicans already back him despite the less squeaky-clean portions of his personal past.

“I have a large number of social conservatives who support me because, as we’ve talked this through, they’ve reached a different conclusion about what America needs and what I can bring in trying to fill that role of leader,” Gingrich said.  

Gingrich announced his formal entry into the 2012 presidential race on Wednesday.

Explaining his decision to run, Gingrich said that he felt a civic obligation to throw his hat into the presidential ring. “When you look at where we are, it just seemed to me to not seek to help the country fix the problems we have would have been a failure of citizenship on my part,” he said.  

Gingrich criticized the Medicare plan backed by House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, saying that Ryan's proposal to turn the health care plan for the elderly into a voucher system "too big a jump." 

"I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," he said after being asked about the Ryan plan. "I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for free society to operate."

The onetime Georgia lawmaker bristled at accusations that some of his criticisms of President Barack Obama – including his labeling of the current commander-in-chief as a “food stamp president” – have racial undertones.

“That’s bizarre,” he responded.

“What I said is factually true,” he added, noting that one of every six Americans receives food stamps. “And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.”

Pressed by host David Gregory about how he believes the president views America, Gingrich doubled down on his charge that Obama does not believe that the United States is fundamentally unique among the world’s nations.

“Look, I believe he loves America. I think he has a very different vision of what America is,” Gingrich said, adding that he is ‘fairly confident’ that Obama does not believe in “American exceptionalism.”

“He’s learned recently how to say it,” he said. “But if you go back and look at the first two years of his presidency it was a real change.”