Newport, New Hampshire (CNN) – GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is standing by a recent statement interpreted as racially insensitive prompting reaction from a major civil rights organization.
"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 paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps," Gingrich said Thursday.
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The NAACP, responding to reports about the line in the speech, said the former speaker's comment is "problematic on several fronts."
"It is a shame that the former Speaker feels that these types of inaccurate, divisive statements are in any way helpful to our country," said President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous in a written statement.
The quote in question came from a speech in Plymouth, New Hampshire when Gingrich was laying out his "food stamps versus paychecks" argument, a frequent topic on the stump when he talks about President Barack Obama's liberal policies and the need for change.
On the campaign trail Gingrich often argues that more people are on food stamps under the Obama administration and that he would pursue policies that get people back to work. He has previously labeled Obama a "food stamp president."
Jealous charged Gingrich of feeding a stereotype. "The majority of people using food stamps are not African-American, and most people using food stamps have a job," he said in the statement.
The former speaker believes his comment Thursday has been taken out of context.
"I think you would have to be nuts to read those two paragraphs and conclude anything except that I was saying that every young American deserves the right to pursue happiness. Every young American deserves a chance to have a job. Every neighborhood in America deserves a chance to have pay checks instead of food stamps," he said.
Gingrich added that this is another example of being labeled a racist for challenging government entitlements such as welfare, which he said he will continue pursuing "even if it makes liberals uncomfortable."
"And for the life of me I can't understand why having a conservative Republican who cares about young people having jobs should be seen as such a terrible idea or should be seen as somehow a racist characterization," he told reporters.
In addition to talking his food-stamp-vs.-paycheck argument on the stump, Gingrich often talks about speaking to the NAACP, as well as other groups, in an effort to reach out to all Americans.
Based on previous experience with Gingrich, the NAACP is not so convinced.
"We invited Speaker Gingrich to attend our annual convention several times when he was Speaker of the House, but he declined to join us," Jealous continued. "If he is invited again, I hope that he would come, with the intention to unite rather than divide."
The Gingrich campaign was unable to confirm or deny Jealous' assertion because they didn't have on hand the former speaker's schedule from the '90s.
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