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Meet Newt Gingrich, the ‘Mitt Romney alternative.’


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Robert Costa

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has his eye on the White House. After months of speculation, he told a Georgia talk-radio program Thursday that he intends to form a presidential exploratory committee in coming weeks. “Callista and I are prepared to see if there are enough folks who want to get this country back on the right track,” Gingrich revealed. He plans to launch NewtExplore2012.com, an online hub, after meeting with Georgia governor Nathan Deal, a key Southern ally, in Atlanta on Thursday afternoon.

“It’s a great challenge but it’s one that we both take very, very seriously,” Gingrich said of his dip into the presidential waters. His candidacy will be built around American exceptionalism, a muscular foreign policy, and restoring economic freedom — getting the “power out of Washington.”

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Gingrich advisers tell National Review Online that the former Georgia lawmaker is eager to take the pulse of the Republican electorate. Gingrich, within federal guidelines for undeclared candidates, will soon conduct polling, raise coin, and travel to key primary states. Before he makes a final decision, however, he wants to build relationships with party leaders across the country and fine-tune his probable national campaign. He will also work to extricate himself from his various business and consulting ventures. The process, aides predict, could be drawn out, but Gingrich has decided to jump into the mix early in order to reintroduce himself to voters and test his themes on the road.

Senior advisers have already mapped out Gingrich’s road to the nomination. “He will likely have to do well in two out of the three early states — Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina,” says one Gingrich strategist. “From those contests, one person will emerge as the ‘Mitt Romney alternative.’ We are hoping that it is Newt Gingrich. Even if Romney pours resources into New Hampshire and wins it, we still believe that we can be competitive in Iowa and South Carolina, garnering enough support to move into future contests in a strong position. Especially in South Carolina, where there are many self-identified evangelicals, we see a lot of opportunity.”

Gingrich, a former Baptist and convert to Catholicism, is very comfortable talking about the role of religion in public life, an aide says. In this sense, Gingrich’s ability to articulate “policy solutions,” coupled with his zeal for founding principles, could put the former speaker in a position to build a broad coalition. Here is how one adviser frames it: Gingrich would attract fiscal hawks who appreciate his work in the House, social conservatives who connect with his post-congressional writings and documentaries on God and American history, Tea Party Republicans who cheer his sharp attacks on the Obama administration, and national-security conservatives who support his staunch opposition to radical Islam.

“Look, if Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin do not run, there is a lot of room,” the strategist continues. “Gingrich brings a very strong non-rhetorical track record to the table. Everyone else will say that they want to balance the budget. That’s great. But Newt is the only one who can say, ‘I did that.’ He is the only one who has a track record of major legislative achievements, from paying down the debt to welfare reform. Romney may talk about the fiscal issues, but we are strong in that area, too. Newt had a solid, conservative record in the House.”

Establishing Gingrich as someone who knows Washington, but is not constrained by its culture, is important, adds another aide. Gingrich, who has lived in the Beltway area for years, returned to Georgia for this initial whisper on purpose. “He is returning to his roots,” the aide says. “This is where he is from, it’s where his daughter lives, and he has grandchildren here. It is natural for him to come back to where his political career began.”

As he unveils his case to GOP voters, the 67-year-old Gingrich, who served as House speaker from 1995 to 1999, will not attempt to run on the fumes of the 1994 GOP House takeover. This is an important point, aides say. Instead, he is determined to craft a policy-based message, with detailed, fine-tuned proposals on the full spectrum of issues, from health care to foreign policy. Gingrich’s time in the political wilderness, many note, has been devoted to exploring innovative policy ideas and they are confident that Gingrich can unveil a compelling platform.

Indeed, Gingrich’s ability to communicate complex ideas to a general audience, the strategist says, will quickly enable him to carve out space in the field. If he can generate momentum as spring unfolds, advisers see him rising as a gregarious, smart, and well-established option for voters who may be skeptical of other leading, or untested, contenders.



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