Will this be Gingrich's year for presidential run?

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 24, 2011 1:55pm EST

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks at the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, February 10, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks at the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, February 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Will this be the year that Republican Newt Gingrich finally steps into the presidential race, after years of talking about it?

The former House of Representatives speaker, who led a conservative upsurge in the 1990s but lost a fight over government spending, is nearing a decision on whether to run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Gingrich would seem to be a natural for a campaign expected to be centered around the economy. He has been talking for years about the same issues that gave birth to the conservative Tea Party movement -- government spending and debt.

And he bears the scars to prove it. In 1995, Gingrich was the top House Republican in a showdown with then-President Bill Clinton over government spending. When Republicans in Congress refused to fund some federal agencies, parts of the government ran out of money and shut down.

But instead of earning plaudits, Gingrich was blamed and Clinton won re-election in 1996. Republicans who now control the House are well aware of the history and working to avoid a shutdown in the coming days that might give a political edge to President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats.

Gingrich is now chairman of American Solutions, a group that advances conservative causes, and has been traveling frequently to the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to test the waters.

Aides say he will decide in the first week of March whether to establish a presidential exploratory committee, a key first step toward a White House bid.

Gingrich is credited by conservatives as an idea man who speaks fluently about America's problems and ways to address them. He has authored more than a dozen books.

"Newt is the intellectual heavyweight leader of the Republican Party," said Republican strategist Scott Reed. "No one knows if he's decided that he's going to run or not, but his entrance into the Republican nomination fight would be good for the party because it would raise the level of debate in a positive manner."

HARD-HITTING SPEECH

Gingrich bolstered that image in a recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference where he focused on the need for a new U.S. energy policy aimed at producing more domestic energy, creating jobs and weaning the country from oil exported from unstable Middle Eastern governments.

"For the last 30 years we've had the worst possible national security policy in energy and it's time we've stopped it, and it's times we passed an aggressively pro-American jobs, aggressively pro-American energy," he said.

On the down side, Gingrich has some personal baggage -- two divorces that might hurt him with evangelical voters.

"I've had a life which, on occasion, has had problems," Gingrich said at a University of Pennsylvania event this week. "I believe in a forgiving God, and the American people will have to decide whether that's their primary concern."

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said Gingrich will have to overcome with conservative activists "any hesitation that they might have that he is damaged goods."

It is unclear whether Gingrich would want to give up chairing the lucrative American Solutions to run for president. He opted against a 2008 run for this reason.

Gingrich polls well among conservatives. An average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics puts him in fourth place in the Republican race with 9.7 percent, behind other potential candidates Mike Huckabee at 19 percent, Mitt Romney at 18.6 percent and Sarah Palin at 16 percent.

Many Republicans believe he could get past whatever questions linger around him from his personal life.

"Clearly that will be an issue for some," said Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. "But as he has said, if this is a race about the past those will be issues for people. It it's about the future he will have a viable chance of being part of the debate."

(Editing by John Whitesides)

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Comments (7)
ginchinchili wrote:
Bring it on, Newt. Gingrich has made a lot of ridiculous, over-the-top comments since he left the House in disgrace. And to think that he was leading the charge against Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair when he was busy doing the same thing, and worse. So, yeah, I’d be happy to see the Republicans run a hypocritical zealot like Newt. I believe it was Newt who said he wanted to see Social Security wither on the vine. That will go over well with the nation’s elderly, especially with current House Republicans busy trying to gut Medicare. Bring it on, Newt, bring it on!

Feb 24, 2011 2:28pm EST  --  Report as abuse
USblues wrote:
The picture was perfect! Newt makes all those old Reich-stag members so proud. Yes he is a regular family values guy too, and is big on marriage, so big he couldn’t stop at just one, he’s done it three times! Wow, now that’s morality! And he obviously loves taking vows, and hey, no nit picking just because those vows included “in sickness and health, for richer for poorer, till death do us part.” He took them and that’s what counts, besides he never said anything about sticking to them! And he got two out of five, that’s batting .400 in matrimonial baseball! Hey kids, Can you spell HYPOCRISY!

Feb 27, 2011 1:23am EST  --  Report as abuse
rsamps wrote:
Is this guy serious?? Far & away, he was the worst House Speaker in modern history. A man full of hatred & with few morals. Maybe he could have Limbaugh be his running mate..

Feb 27, 2011 8:13am EST  --  Report as abuse
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