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Gingrich forced to address looming campaign questions

Eric Thayer / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich handles a .306 Ruger American Rifle during a tour of the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. factory Friday in Newport, N.H.

NEWPORT, NH -- Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was forced to answer many questions Friday that have been looming over his campaign for several weeks now.

Gingrich was forced to address his $1.6 million consultant fees from Freddie Mac after the mortgage giant said Thursday that he could disclose his contract with the group.

"I'm perfectly happy" to have the contracts released, the former House speaker told reporters before an event at Sturm, Ruger & Co. But, he said, he does not have the power to make that decision.

"I don't work there and I don't own it. It's not up to me. Nancy Desmond is the president" of the Center for Health Transformation (CHT) and The Gingrich Group, both of which had contracts with Freddie Mac.

As of May 10, 2010, Gingrich sold his ownership shares in CHT and the Gingrich Group, the campaign said.

Gingrich's role with Freddie Mac came under scrutiny after the federally chartered corporation, which buys mortgages from lenders and repackages them as investment securities, was blamed for helping cause the housing market crash and whether Gingrich himself was lobbying on behalf of the group.

The speaker has denied doing any type of lobbying and said he was a consultant paid roughly $35,000 per year by Freddie Mac.

Another point of contention, Gingrich was asked to clarify his comments about food stamps and the African-American community. He first made the link last month but his remark was seen in a critical eye Thursday by many on the internet.

"There’s no neighborhood I know of in America where if you went around and asked people, would you rather your children had food stamps or paychecks, you wouldn’t end up with a majority saying they’d rather have a paycheck," Gingrich said Thursday morning in Plymouth, N.H. "And so I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention to talk about why the African-American community should demand pay checks and not be satisfied with food stamps."

But Gingrich told reporters Friday at the gun-manufacturing company that his comments have been taken out of context.

"I think you would have to be nuts," Gingrich said of people who felt he was being racially offensive. "I was saying that every young American deserves the right to pursue happiness, every young American deserves the right to get a job. Every neighborhood in America deserves a chance to get paychecks instead of food stamps."

But even the NAACP believes Gingrich’s comments were inappropriate, issuing a statement accusing the speaker of getting his facts about African-Americans wrong.

"It is a shame that the former speaker feels that these types of inaccurate, divisive statements are in any way helpful to our country," NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a written statement.

And Gingrich was also asked to address questions about his GOP rival Mitt Romney, whose Super PAC is coming out with new ads against the speaker and whom he will see for the first time in person Saturday during the debate since all the negative ads began in December.

"There’s a point when you just have to say to somebody – get real. He's a Massachusetts moderate," Gingrich fired at Romney after describing the two candidates' differences.

"Well I'm basically going to focus my message on the American people," the speaker said about Saturday night’s debate – the first debate in three weeks. "I don't focus my messages on other people on the stage."