Gingrich is regaining clout

Some in GOP see strong presidential candidate for 2012

The Associated PressApril 15, 2009 

— More than a decade after he stepped down as speaker of the House into what seemed like almost certain political oblivion, Newt Gingrich is back and seemingly more relevant than ever.

Gingrich seems to be everywhere these days, headlining an endless circuit of GOP dinners, popping up on TV news shows, authoring yet another best-selling book and acting as a policy guru to out-of-power congressional Republicans on how to do battle with the Democratic White House.

As beleaguered Republicans look for a standard bearer after last year's disastrous election, they've been tossing around the names of flashy new stars like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential candidate, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, young and Indian-American in a party that's increasingly identified with older white men.

But could the GOP's savior instead be a wonkish, twice-divorced throwback to the fiercely partisan Republican revolution?

Gingrich has managed to keep himself in the public eye since leaving the House, but the blitz of public appearances in recent months is reminiscent of the run-up to 2007, when he toyed with a presidential run only to abandon it before the primaries began.

Now, some are speculating that the former congressman from Georgia is laying the groundwork for a White House bid in 2012.

Grover Norquist, a prominent conservative and president of Americans for Tax Reform, said Gingrich is on nearly every Republican short list of possible White House prospects.

"One of the ways you judge these guys is how hard they're working, and Newt is out there hustling," Norquist said.

Gingrich does not exactly discourage such presidential speculation.

Instead he argues he is busy with work for a pair of think tanks -- American Solutions and the Center for Health Transformation.

That work gives him a platform to speak on a dizzying array of issues: from childhood obesity and nuclear weapons in North Korea to offshore oil exploration.

"I really love trying to solve problems. I get very excited about it," Gingrich, 65, said after teaching a law school class recently at the University of Georgia.

With Gingrich, a former college history professor, the ideas sometimes come so fast and furious that even supporters say they can feel overwhelmed by a conversation with him.

Rich Galen, a Washington-based Republican strategist and former Gingrich aide, called him the GOP's "intellect-in-chief."

"He's always been the idea man," Galen said.

If Gingrich has his way, those ideas will spawn a movement, something akin to what Barack Obama found himself leading in 2008 as he ran to replace President George W. Bush. There are no signs that Gingrich has such a movement building yet. But some point to his history of rallying the Republican revolt in the mid 1990s.

"Gingrich alone, of all the guys who may be running, brings a history of being a movement and party builder," Norquist said.

That movement ultimately imploded and Gingrich resigned following heavy GOP losses in the 1998 midterm elections. But Norquist and others said he is smart enough to have learned from that stinging defeat.

Gingrich describes his role this way: "I'm a citizen leader who's also a Republican."

Asked whether he will make the transition from citizen to candidate, Gingrich gives an impish grin.

"We'll see," he said.

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