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Reagan sources say Gingrich "torch" quote taken out of context

Calling himself “the legitimate heir to the Reagan movement,” Newt Gingrich recently cited a 1995 speech by Nancy Reagan in which the former First Lady said that her husband “passed on the torch” to him.

“In 1995, Nancy Reagan at the Goldwater Institute was very generous,” Gingrich told voters in Florida on Sunday. “And she said ‘Just as Barry gave the torch to Ronny, Ronny has passed on the torch to Newt.’”

But as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports, Gingrich appears to be taking that comment out of context.

Sources close to Nancy Reagan said the speech itself was written by the host at the Goldwater Organization – where Mrs. Reagan delivered the remarks - and that she was referring generally to Congress and not specifically to the former Speaker, Mitchell reported on her MSNBC program.

Gingrich’s claim that he was a key figure in the Reagan revolution in 1980s is “patently false,” added Al Hunt, executive editor of Bloomberg News, during an appearance on Mitchell’s show.

Hunt said that Reagan biographer Lou Cannon has contended that Gingrich had nothing to do with the “Reagan Revolution.”

“He was a backbencher. Lou’s not even sure Reagan knew who Gingrich was,” Hunt said.

Hunt painted a stark contrast between “can-do optimist” Reagan and Gingrich, whose appeal derives from being able to “attack Democrats better than anybody.”

“I think they are quite different people. And certainly at a minimum, the Speaker’s claims -- or his latter-day Reaganism -- are exaggerated” Hunt added.

In Florida, Gingrich has taken a hard line on stem cell research, a contrast to Nancy Reagan’s position and his own stance in 2001, when he said some excess cells from in vitro fertilization could be used for research.

The former first lady has championed for stem cell research, an issue that was inspired by her husband’s Alzheimer’s treatment.

“I would eliminate all funding for any stem cell research which came from the killing of life,” Gingrich said Saturday at the Baptist Church in Winter Park. “This was never an argument about science. This was the use of science to justify desensitizing the society to killing babies.”