In the last 24 hours, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich has touched base with several prominent Republicans in his former home state, telling them that he intends to make a run for president in 2012 using Georgia as his base – and that he already has his eye on office space in Buckhead for a campaign headquarters.
Gingrich met on Thursday with Nathan Deal, whom Gingrich endorsed during a critical phase of last year’s Republican primary for governor.
House Speaker David Ralston introduced Gingrich Thursday night at a downtown Atlanta affair hosted by the Paulding County Chamber of Commerce.
The visits and conversations – some face-to-face, others on the phone — appear to be an attempt by Gingrich to revive his old campaign network and lock down as much support as possible in a state won by Republican Mike Huckabee in the 2008 presidential primary.
A spokeswoman for Johnny Isakson said Gingrich called the U.S. senator earlier this month – adding that Gingrich was not definite about his plans in that conversation. In an interview on Friday, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss said he had not talked to Gingrich yet, but that the former U.S. House speaker had asked for an appointment in the near future. “He said, ‘I need a significant amount of your time,’” Chambliss said.
Gingrich, 67, is registered to vote in Virginia, and has a Virginia driver’s license. But he spent most of his adult life in Georgia, and from 1979 until 1999 — the last three years as speaker — Gingrich was a congressman from metro Atlanta.
Gingrich most recent visit here was clearly an attempt to lock down as much support as possible in a state won by Republican Mike Huckabee in the 2008 presidential primary. In a meeting with reporters, Gingrich emphasized his Georgia roots.
“My offices are here. My grandchildren are here. I’m here regularly,” Gingrich said at a Thursday news conference at his Center for Health Transformation in suburban Atlanta. “I helped create the modern Republican Party in Georgia starting in 1960. I have a certain fondness for being back in Atlanta.”
Perhaps more important, fundraising for Gingrich’s American Solutions organization is conducted out of Atlanta.
However, Rick Tyler, a spokesman for Gingrich, contacted Friday, said the former House speaker’s schedule for deciding on a 2012 presidential run had not changed. “His plans are to decide on whether to create an exploratory committee in late February, and make a decision about his candidacy in March,” Tyler said.
But Tyler said that Atlanta shouldn’t be ruled out as a headquarters – should Gingrich join the presidential contest.
For Gingrich, the key question is whether or not he can recreate an enthusiastic political base in Georgia more than a decade after he left it. There is no guarantee. Take, for instance, Saxby Chambliss. In a session with reporters, the U.S. senator said:
“Newt is my friend. He’s been a mentor, in some respects, since he was speaker when I got elected [to Congress].”
“But it’s a different world right now, and we’ve got to make sure that whoever the nominee is , that he can win in November. That’s the goal of every Republican right now. John Thune[, the U.S. senator from South Dakota,] is a very close friend. He’s talked to me about his potential campaign.
“I’m going to keep my powder dry.”
While Chambliss said he would pay good money to watch a debate between Gingrich and President Barack Obama, and has several strong points — his communication skills, and his familiarity with both fiscal issues and health care. But Chambliss has questions about Gingrich’s viability:
“Newt hasn’t said this to me, but he’s obviously aware of all the negative aspects of the campaign. And I’d be curious to hear from him why he thinks he can win in spite of that.
“In presidential campaigns now, you have to do something in Iowa. You may not have to win Iowa, but you’ve got to make a good showing in Iowa. Then you’ve either got to win or make a good showing in New Hampshire – if you don’t win Iowa.
Then if you don’t win New Hampshire or Iowa, you’ve got to win South Carolina. Can Newt do that?”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider