Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Newt Gingrich is moving closer to a presidential nomination bid in a severely divided Republican Party.

“I will decide based on whether I have about $30 million in committed campaign contributions and whether I think it is possible to run a campaign based on ideas rather than 30-second sound bites,” the former House speaker told The Washington Times yesterday.

Many Republicans, regardless of whether they agree with his views, regard him as conservatism’s brainiest and most-engaging politician.

“The party believes ideas have consequences, and no one articulates our message better than Newt,” said Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saulius “Saul” Anuzis.

Party strategist Tom Edmonds says Mr. Gingrich “is intellectually superior, but his challenge will be to stay focused.” The first deadline for a Gingrich move is Oct. 15, when prospective and declared presidential nomination candidates must pay $500 to Utah to be on the state’s primary ballot, said Gingrich confidant Randy Evans.

Mr. Gingrich is careful not to commit formally to a run.

“I will conduct workshops around the country through September 30, after which I will make a decision,” he told The Times after a major policy address at the American Enterprise Institute.

Another factor is whether any current contender coalesces Republican voters before the middle of next month.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson and Rudolph W. Giuliani are each commanding a quarter of likely primary voters, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain of Arizona each have about 12 percent support in the latest Rasmussen national poll of more than 600 likely Republican primary voters.

By contrast, 41 percent of Democrats in the same poll already have coalesced around New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama at 20 percent and John Edwards at 17 percent.

Some social conservatives have moved to Mr. Thompson’s side. They worry about further splitting the conservative vote. Pollster Scott Rasmussen says conservatives constitute about 60 percent of the party’s primary voters.

“If we split the conservative vote, Rudy wins,” says Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich. “I have high regard for Newt. … He would force the other candidates to face issues they don’t want to face up to.”

Mr. Gingrich has been getting his message out through policy addresses at the American Enterprise Institute, considered a major center of neoconservative ideas, and through a series of online workshops for his American Solutions for Winning the Future.

He says American Solutions is a nonpartisan effort “to defend America and our allies abroad and defeat our enemies, to strengthen and revitalize America’s core values, and to move the government into the 21st century.” Six years after the attacks of September 11, “we are having the wrong debate about the wrong report,” Mr. Gingrich said in his AEI speech on Monday, the day Gen. David H. Petraeus gave Congress his report on the state of the Iraq war.

Mr. Gingrich figures he would need at least $30 million to conduct competitive television-ad campaigns in the first five primary and caucus states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and perhaps Florida or Michigan. The primary calendar is still up in the air.

“If this election is about money and structure, then we already know who our nominee is,” said Mr. Evans, alluding to the well-organized and financed Giuliani and Romney campaigns. “If it’s about ideas and a movement, then we may not know who our nominee is for a long time to come, because nobody has yet tapped into the core coalition of Americans who have a vision of where they think America should go.”

Mr. Gingrich has proposed an informal committee of congressional lawmakers from both parties “to meet every two weeks with the next president” that would foster far less partisanship. He also proposed setting the budget for defense and intelligence at 5 percent of the nation’s total economic output, almost double what President Bush settled for in 2002.

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