GOP presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista took a break from the hustings of Iowa Saturday to sign books at Mount Vernon and surprised quite a few tourists.
They made an appearance at the historic site to promote Callista's new children's book, "Sweet Land of Liberty."
The Mount Vernon bookstore sold out all of its 200 or so copies during the book-signing. Those who stood in line got signatures from both Gingriches, who signed books from 2-4 p.m. Saturday.
The Gingriches were sacrificing campaign time in Iowa, where the 68-year-old former speaker of the House is locked in a fierce battle with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas for supremacy in Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses on Jan. 3.
Mrs. Gingrich's book was published by Regnery Publishing, which also publishes books by conservative pundit Ann Coulter and Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
The power couple pulled up to the estate just before 2 p.m. Saturday in a black Cadillac Escalade, exiting and shaking hands with onlookers under cloudy skies and chilly temperatures as they made their way inside the lobby of a bookstore and gift shop that sits on the estate property of the nation's first president, George Washington.
Mrs. Gingrich, 45, was dressed in a black dress, bright red jacket, three strands of pearls and black pumps. Upon seeing her, several tourists commented on her outfit and trademark sleek platinum hairdo. “She’s beautiful!” and a whisper of “She’s his third wife,” could be heard.
“She looks like a Barbie,” said Lauren Boyd, visiting Mount Vernon with her mother Becky who was in town from Oklahoma. “She’s so pretty.”
The two bought a book and stood in line so they could take pictures with the Gingriches. “I’m really surprised,” Boyd said. “I’ve never seen a presidential candidate in person before.”
Elaine Clark of Charleston, W. Va., was busy shepherding a group of American Heritage girls (similar to the Girl Scouts), who were visiting Mount Vernon on a field trip. “I said ‘That looks like Newt Gingrich,’ and it was!” she said.
A private security detail, as well as Mount Vernon security, kept the crowd of about 200 to 300 tourists under control. Mount Vernon security guard Andrew Jenkins, a resident of the area, asked tourists, as diplomatically as possible, to keep moving. Most were busy snapping photos.
The line to meet the celebrated couple snaked back through the lobby between the bookstore entrances and near a giant Christmas tree decorated with holiday ornaments. Some in line or others circling the hubbub, including Ed Stirling of Fairlington, said although they were not Gingrich supporters, they were excited about seeing a “political celebrity.”
“Honestly, I’m for anyone but Obama,” said Lou Spyes Jr. of First Baptist Church of Vineland, N.J., who waited in line to have a copy of the book signed. “This is better though than turkey pie and peanut soup." The items are on the menu at the Mount Vernon Inn restaurant.
Malcolm and Katherine Ross, visiting Mount Vernon to pick up an advent calendar, also happened upon the Gingrich book-signing. “I’m definitely not in Obama’s camp,” Malcolm Ross said. “But she,” he said, pointing to his wife, “is totally undecided. It seems early; it seems totally open still.”
Virginians will vote in the Republican primary in less than three months, on March 6, 2012, aka Super Tuesday.
How’s Gingrich’s support in Northern Virginia? “I think you can see some of that here today,” Gingrich said as he was leaving the book signing.
The D.C. area, including Northern Virginia, has donated $105,825 to Gingrich's campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The top Virginia ZIP code giving to Gingrich is 22101, in McLean, where he lives. Residents there have donated $14,650.