- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2011

Newt Gingrich, regarded as the Republicans’ best strategist when he was in Congress and still seen as one of its best planners, announced in Atlanta on Thursday that he has created a website asking people to donate to “Newt Explore 2012.”

“We have launched an exploratory process based on the website ‘newtexplore2012.com,’” Mr. Gingrich told The Washington Times. “There is no technical requirement for a committee and our focus is on hearing from people directly through the website.”

Mr. Gingrich’s organization and planning seem a bit muddled lately, with longtime adviser Joe Gaylord leaking to the Des Moines Register that Mr. Gingrich would announce a presidential exploratory committee. Gingrich press secretary Rick Tyler, however, almost immediately afterward said it was absolutely not true.

Running well behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the polls, Mr. Gingrich is not expected to pull the trigger on running unless he thinks he can win.

The former House speaker in effect has begun the “exploratory phase” of what may or may not be a 2012 Republican presidential run and has done so in a way that reminds some observers of the 2008 campaign that he jerked to a stop virtually before it got started, despite having told much of the world he was definitely going to run.

Nonetheless, the formation of a website hinting at a 2012 bid cheered admirers who have been itching for some indication, however tenuous, that they may soon be able to campaign for the man they say is the smartest, most organized, best-spoken and toughest in the GOP.

His Republican enthusiasts, even some who disagree strongly with him on some issues, all sound a similar theme — the economy will be better and President Obama will be harder to defeat in November 2012 than many people think and only Mr. Gingrich has what it takes to crush Mr. Obama in next year’s presidential debates.

“Newt is the smartest of the possible challengers and could best Obama in debate,” said Virginia conservative activist Tom Martin, reflecting the opinion of many Republicans and independents who flock to events featuring Mr. Gingrich.

Mr. Gingrich, at 67 the eldest of the eight or so Republicans flirting with a nomination bid, was the Democrats’ nemesis for much of his time in the House, when he accused them of presiding over a corrupt welfare state. He led a successful move to dislodge House Speaker Jim Wright and led Republicans to historic victories in the House and Senate in 1994.

“Since 1952, Republicans have won the presidency nine times and Democrats six,” Mr. Gingrich told The Times. “Yet despite 50 percent more control of the White House, the core mechanisms of the bureaucracy and the judiciary have remained firmly in the framework of the left-wing coalition which has governed America since 1932.

“Any serious effort to get America on the right track to prosperity, limited government, lower taxes, greater national security and decentralization from Washington … has to take into account how really big and wrenching this change will be and how ferociously the left will oppose it,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Mr. Gingrich, twice divorced and now on his third — and apparently happy — marriage, has a pile of negatives to overcome with some on the religious and social right. Some free-market advocates are skeptical, too, but for different reasons.

Mr. Gingrich announced his website, along with a Twitter feed, NewtExplore2012, a day after Fox News suspended his news-analysis role for 60 days, pending his deciding whether or not to officialy seek the nomination.

Even admirer David Lane, a California-based organizer of conservative pastors, is skeptical about Mr. Gingrich’s chances.

Mr. Lane gave Mr. Gingrich credit for the recent successful effort to recall three Iowa Supreme Court justices who had participated in an unanimous vote to approve same-sex marriages. He said Mr. Gingrich arranged for an anonymous donor to provide $200,000 to get the removal effort started. Still, Mr. Lane says Mr. Gingrich’s winning the GOP nomination would mean “a hefty climb, on the level of an earthquake moving the Rockies a foot or two.”

Mr. Gingrich said he has a broad vision for turning the country around. “Any narrowly focused presidential campaign will fail to achieve the necessary scale,” he warned. “There are 513,000 elected officials in the United States and only 537 of them are federal.”

The campaign he would mount, he said, would not be traditional or about him alone.

“A campaign for real change can use a presidential candidate as a key leader, but has to be dramatically broader and deeper than a traditional presidential campaign,” Mr. Gingrich said.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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