ABC’s Elicia Dover reports:
SHEFFIELD, Iowa – With the political winds shifting in his favor, Newt Gingrich is turning an incident that almost unraveled his entire presidential bid earlier this summer into a campaign trail talking point.
Gingrich, whose luxury Greek vacation in June led to the mass resignations of several members of his campaign staff, now says he used the overseas trip to talk with Europeans about the banking crisis there.
The former House Speaker told a crowd in West Des Moines on Monday, that he listened to the Greek people talk about their economic woes and even noted that his observations about the state of the global economy were “very much influenced” by his Mediterranean sojourn.
“I visited Greece in June I talked to people about what they were faced with in Greece. And I listened to them and I tried to understand they face a crisis of enormous proportions,” Gingrich said. “The Greeks can’t pay off their loans at half the value. This is an enormous collapse of their quality of life in this category.”
Back in June when Gingrich went missing from the campaign trail, his aides were quiet about his whereabouts. But reporters soon discovered that Gingrich and his wife Callista were thousands of miles from the U.S. aboard the “Seabourn Odyssey,” a luxury cruise ship.
The ship left a port near Athens on May 30, making stops in Istanbul, Turkey and the Greek Islands of Mylos, Patmos, Rhodes, and Mykonos — an island famous for its nightlife.
The trip did not sit well with Gingrich’s top advisers, may of whom quit upon Gingrich’s return. The resignations included campaign manager Rob Johnson, spokesman Rick Tyler, senior strategists Sam Dawson and Dave Carney, South Carolina consultant Katon Dawson and Iowa consultant Craig Schoenfeld.
But remarkably, the cruise that nearly sunk his campaign no longer appears to be a liability, as least as Gingrich tells it.
At a stop in Jefferson, Iowa on Monday Gingrich reiterated that the luxury vacation was a chance for him to listen and talk with the Greek people and “reflect” on the American economy.
“I was in Greece in early June I took some flak from the press for going on a trip, but it was actually very helpful to be in Greece in early June,” Gingrich said. “I talked to people who are dealing with this crisis in Europe and whether or not Greece had made a mistake in leaving the drachma, which was their original money and joining this larger confederation and I was talking with people who were in such trouble that they are facing a one third drop in their standard of living.”
On Tuesday, ABC News asked Gingrich to provide a specific example of someone in Greece he spoke with about the European banking crisis.
“I just talked to a number of people who were private citizens who would talk about the way the country operates, the scale of change involved, their attitude toward the Germans dictating to them and really deep sense of despair about the future,” he said.
As Gingrich campaigned in Iowa this week, he’s been buoyed by rising poll numbers. A CNN/ORC International Poll out this week shows rival Mitt Romney at 24 percent and Gingrich at 22 percent nationally and the former House Speaker is also among the top four contenders in the Hawkeye State, according to a Bloomberg poll release on Tuesday.