WASHINGTON -- Presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich isn't worried that declining unemployment will hurt Republicans' chances of retaking the White House in November.
The Labor Department announced Friday that the unemployment rate had fallen to 8.3 percent in January, the fifth straight month of decline and the lowest the rate has been in three years. NBC's "Meet the Press" host David Gregory asked Gingrich Sunday if continued job growth will make it harder to beat President Barack Obama.
"If you are talking we go down to 7.9 percent in the fourth year of the longest recession since the Great Depression, you still have a challenge," Gingrich replied. "If it's combined with the highest-priced gasoline in the history, he will still have a challenge, and if we got to that recovery because he is borrowing trillions from our children and grandchildren, it's still down."
"By an overwhelming margin, the American people think Washington is on the wrong track," Gingrich continued. "Obama's policies have consistently weakened the country. There are very few Americans who want to see the price of gasoline raised by ... 25 cents a gallon."
Even if an improving economy is unhelpful to Republicans, Gingrich suggested there's always the culture war alternative. "It's not just an economic election," he said. "[Obama] declared war on the Catholic Church. That's the language of the archbishop in New York."
Gingrich was referring to an Obama administration decision requiring religiously affiliated employers to cover birth control in their employee health insurance policies, a mandate that has outraged the Catholic Church.
"There cannot be a genuinely Catholic university or hospital [if] in fact it will have to be subordinated to the rules of a secular government," Gingrich said. "I think it's a tremendous infringement of religious liberty. ... I think that's a very profound moment for Americans to decide if you really want to have a government imposing that."
As for the decline in the unemployment rate, Gingrich noted that the reduced rate of participation in the labor force has contributed to the decline, and he said broader measures of unemployment that count people who can't find full-time jobs or who aren't looking because they don't think jobs are available are still in the double digits.