Sunday, July 30, 2006

Seven years after leaving Congress, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has again become a high-profile figure among conservatives as he considers a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

A recent Gallup Poll placed Mr. Gingrich third in a field of Republicans who are viewed as potential presidential candidates. Although Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani placed first and second in the poll, they are considered too moderate by many of the party’s base to secure the nomination. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Virginia Sen. George Allen have been positioning themselves as conservative standard-bearers, but finished fourth and sixth in the poll, respectively.

Mr. Gingrich is “an idea-making factory,” said Tim Chapman of the Heritage Foundation. Last week, Mr. Gingrich spoke at a gathering of conservative bloggers to discuss his much-publicized assertion that the United States is now engaged in World War III. Mr. Chapman helped organize the meeting and says the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah has heightened the focus on terrorism and therefore expanded Mr. Gingrich’s appeal.

“Conservatives who pay a lot of attention to this stuff have a lot of respect for him,” Mr. Chapman said. “But now, with the foreign-policy issue, he has a much broader appeal. With conservatives who aren’t so wonkish, he’s suddenly on their radar.”

Expanding on his World War III theme, Mr. Gingrich told the group of conservative bloggers there is a clear connection between terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and the countries that support them.

“There’s a Hezbollah training camp in Paraguay, there’s a group in North Carolina, we caught a cell crossing the border,” Mr. Gingrich said. “They’re all funded by the Iranians. At one point, when people are killing you, you start to think, ‘Gee, maybe this is a war.’”

According to one source, Mr. Gingrich has been bringing a map of the world with him to meetings in order to illustrate what he sees as the global connection between regimes hostile toward American interests.

Over the past year, Mr. Gingrich has embarked on a flurry of political activity. His most recent book, “Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract With America,” quickly became a best-seller and received added attention when Mr. Gingrich announced his possible interest in a White House run. It has been a remarkable turnaround for a political figure who was driven from power in the wake of the 1998 Clinton impeachment scandal after House Republicans lost seats in that year’s congressional elections.

Mr. Gingrich appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee last week to mark the 10th anniversary of the welfare-reform legislation he helped usher into law. Many consider the bill his greatest achievement as a legislator.

“The 1996 welfare reforms marked a dramatic change in American social policy,” Mr. Gingrich said. “Yet we cannot stop there if we are to advance the real change required to help the poor, the powerless and those who have been left out of the American dream.”

During his visit to Capitol Hill, Mr. Gingrich also pushed for education and Medicaid reforms.

“What is remarkable is how many people have come up to me and said he’s totally different than what they expected,” said Harry Levine, director of Victory New Hampshire, a conservative group that plays an influential role among Republican primary voters. “And they mean that in a positive way.”

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