Is Newt Going to Run?

He's been out of office for eight years, since resigning from Congress under an ethical cloud.

Yet, last month, he polled third behind John McCain and Rudy Giuliani among likely Republican voters. And he's been making headlines with his criticism of the Bush administration and the GOP leadership.

It may seem improbable, but Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, undone by numerous ethics charges and sinking popularity, is emerging as a potential contender in the 2008 race for the White House.

For some conservatives dismayed over the state of the GOP, especially in light of last week's election debacle, Gingrich looms as an attractive possibility. They don't trust McCain due to his independence streak, they worry about Giuliani's liberalism on social issues, and they're concerned that conservative candidate Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, doesn't have much name recognition.

Of course, Gingrich hasn't made up his mind yet about running, so his presidential prospects are still just the stuff of cocktail party chatter in D.C. While McCain, Giuliani, Romney and former Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson are already testing the waters, Gingrich says he won't decide until the fall of 2007, which may just be too late to jump into the game.

"I visited with him yesterday and he told me that he would not make a decision until September of 2007," says Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation and one of Gingrich's political mentors.

One thing's for certain: Gingrich has been ubiquitous over the last nine months. In addition to his longtime role as a Fox News contributor, Gingrich has been more visible than ever inside and outside of the Beltway -- huddling with GOP fundraisers, making endless rounds of the think tanks and attracting enthusiastic crowds on his numerous trips to Iowa.

"He's somebody we need right now," says Cullen Sheehan, executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, who cautions that he's not endorsing any candidates yet. "Right now, as a party we need to advance ourselves and pick ourselves up and Newt brings a lot to the table. He certainly has a following in Iowa."

Though he attracts eager crowds who like his ideas, some Republicans in Iowa aren't convinced Gingrich is the best candidate. "My personal opinion is that Newt is a great idea guy, but I'm not sold yet," says Bobby Kaufman, the chairman of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans. "I see him as a candidate but I haven't yet seen it, that 'it' factor. I'm not completely sold on his viability."

Kaufman says it's going to be difficult for Gingrich to re-enter the mainstream of American politics after his exit in 1998. At the time, Gingrich had become a polarizing figure and his job approval rating sank to 28 percent during the Clinton impeachment scandal due to his perceived hypocrisy (Gingrich cheated on his wife, whom he divorced while she was recovering from cancer surgery in the hospital).

Of course, voters' memories are short and eight years is a lifetime in politics. "People like me didn't even know what the word 'politics' meant when all that happened," says 21-year-old Kaufman.

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