ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports:
A spokesman for Newt Gingrich tells ABC News that the former Speaker of the House will announce this week whether he intends to form a presidential exploratory committee.
Assuming he decides to go forward — and sources close to Gingrich say he likley will — he will become the first major Republican figure to jump into the 2012 Presidential race.
Gingrich said he would make an announcement before the end of February or in early March, but his spokesman’s comments to ABC News provide the clearest timeline yet of his presidential decision-making process.
Those comments come on the same day that Gingrich announced he would travel to Iowa next week to participate in a presidential candidate forum organized by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.
The March 7 event outside Des Moines will feature Gingrich as well as potential rivals former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Georgia businessman Herman Cain.
Gingrich has been traveling the country as he contemplates a presidential bid. Last week he headlined the annual Lincoln Day dinner in Palm Beach County, Florida, telling the audience, "The American people today are demoralized, dispirited, worried and concerned because their elites have betrayed them, their system has crippled them and their government has failed them."
And on Sunday Gingrich, who led the 1995 shutdown of the federal government as House Speaker, advised Republicans in Congress to “work to keep the government open,” but not to shy away from a shutdown if necessary.
“Those who claim that the shutdown was politically disastrous for Republicans ignore the fact that our House seat losses in 1996 were in the single digits," Gingrich wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post. "Moreover, it was the first time in 68 years that Republicans were reelected to a House majority — and the first time that had ever happened with a Democrat winning the presidency."
Gingrich has been hinting at his announcement timeline for weeks now, telling ABC News at the Conservative Political Action Convention in Washington earlier this month that he planned to "announce by the end of the month." It's not yet clear what form the announcement about an exploratory committee will take.
ABC News' Michael Falcone contributed reporting to this post.