- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Newt Gingrich may be the only Republican alive who can postpone a presidential campaign decision until November and still have a serious chance to win the nomination in February, election analysts say.

“Most people couldn’t do it, but this is Newt — and that is seriously different,” said Cleta Mitchell, an elections law legal adviser to top Senate and House Republicans who says that most conservatives are still looking for “Mr. Right.”

On Feb. 5, tens of millions of Republican voters in at least 20 states, with more than half the nation’s population, will cast ballots in the biggest single-day primary elections firefight in memory, said Federal Election Commissioner Michael E. Toner, an appointee of President Bush’s.

“His would be a ‘celebrity campaign,’ in that money is of less importance to him than, say, to [former Massachusetts Gov.] Mitt Romney, because Gingrich is capable of becoming the consensus choice for conservatives,” said Craig Shirley, who is completing his second book-length study of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns. “Among the 2008 GOP aspirants, he is probably the only one who knows the difference between Friedrich Hayek and Salma Hayek.”

Friedrich Hayek was a Nobel Prize-winning economist; Salma Hayek is a Hollywood actress.

Mr. Toner said Mr. Gingrich could raise the requisite money — upward of $90 million in his case — that late because the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations, mistakenly thought by some strategists in both parties to limit total primary donations to about $250 million overall in each party, are in fact virtually boundless. The rules permit individual donors to give up to $2,300 to each of many rival candidates in the same primary season and again in the general election.

“Besides, the money will be there since Newt is a known commodity, a household name with deep admiration from Republicans and grass-roots activists, many — maybe most — of whom may not be enamored with the leading candidates by this fall,” Mrs. Mitchell said.

Republicans who have been working presidential nomination efforts for more than a quarter-century say privately that Mr. Gingrich’s hovering presence, just offstage, is the one most feared by Republicans already in the contest. Some predict that the Georgia Republican would pull off the surge of all surges.

“He would suddenly dominate the ‘earned media’ [free publicity] scene in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina for weeks by getting in that late,” said David Carney, New Hampshire campaign strategist and former adviser to the first President Bush. “Until, that is, the other campaign most negatively impacted launched massive counterattacks.”

“If there is someone on the right who can make a late charge for the GOP nomination, it’s Gingrich and only Gingrich,” Mr. Shirley said. “He’s assiduously worked the ‘new media’ for six years, been on the road continuously speaking out, been a fixture on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” and is also sought out by [NBC’s] Tim Russert. Getting in late makes him somewhat of a long shot, but low expectations serve his purposes.”

Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, made clear he is in no hurry to jump into the race.

“We are going to focus on nationwide Internet-based ‘American solutions’ training sessions on September 27, the anniversary of our 1994 Contract with America, and on September 29 — a Saturday for those who cannot attend a Thursday workshop,” Mr. Gingrich told The Washington Times. “Then on September 30 we will assess the Republican nomination situation.”

Mr. Gingrich said he won’t make a move if even one of the candidates “is carrying out the ideas and issues” he has been “sharing with everyone in both parties. Then we will not do anything.”

If the Republican field looks weak, however, then he will be in the running. Or, as he put it, “If there is clearly a vacuum of solution-oriented leadership, then we would spend October exploring and do something in November.”

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