Newt Gingrich Set to Throw His Hat in the Ring to be 2012 Republican Nominee for President

Sources: Former House Speaker Will form 2012 Exploratory Comm.

February 28, 2011, 7:24 PM

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2011— -- Newt Gingrich, his advisors say, will make his first step toward a presidential run this week.

But what will that step be? Tonight Newt's own political team appears divided on that question.

On one hand, there's Joe Gaylord, who for two decades has been Gingrich's closest political advisor. He is quoted in the Des Moines Register tonight saying Gingrich will announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee Thursday in Atlanta.

"It's exactly that, an exploratory committee," Gaylord told the Des Moines Register.

On the other hand, there's Gingrich's own spokesman, who put out a statement tonight saying that Gaylord had made "a significantly inaccurate statement."

In a written statement entitled "Clarification: Purpose of Gingrich Visit to Georgia," Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler says that Gingrich is making a long-scheduled visit that has nothing to do with forming an exploratory committee.

"Gingrich is not travelling to Georgia to announce that he will form 'an exploratory committee' as stated in the Des Moines Register," Tyler said in the statement. "To be clear, while Speaker Gingrich is in Georgia on Thursday, he will NOT announce the formation of an exploratory committee."

A source close to Gingrich says that, for legal reasons, Gingrich is prepared to announce something called "an explore phase" that will allow him to prepare for a presidential run.

This "explore phase," the source says, is different legally from "an exploratory committee."

At any rate, Gingrich will answer questions about all this in Atlanta on Thursday following an event he is doing with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to announce the formation of a "Tenth Amendment Team" to defend Georgia's 10th Amendment rights.

Gingrich's travel schedule is already looking like that of a presidential candidate. He will be in Iowa on March 7 and ABC News has learned he will in New Hampshire March 17.

Gingrich's advisors say his campaign will have a "major presence" in Georgia, which Gingrich represented in Congress for 19 years, though they have not decided yet where his campaign headquarters will be. Gingrich has lived in northern Virginia for years.

He has been preparing and talking openly about a possible run for months.

"2010 was the appetizer. 2012 is the entrée," Gingrich told an enthusiastic crowd at CPAC earlier this month.

He will instantly be a force. He's tireless, full of ideas and one of the most well-known Republicans in the country. Nearly two decades ago, Gingrich led the last Republican revolution, drafting the "Contract with America" that swept House Republicans into power in 1994.

His advisors say a Gingrich campaign would tout his accomplishments as speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, when the budget wasn't just balanced but generated more than $400 billion in surpluses. Advisors say this sets him apart from the field.

He won't just talk about the federal debt, but can take credit as the only candidate with a record of dealing with it effectively, they say. He also oversaw comprehensive welfare reform, tax cuts and a reduction in the growth of government spending.

But Gingrich also brings baggage and controversy, and he is a favorite target of Democrats. He faced ethics allegations and took heat for the confrontation with President Clinton that culminated in the government shutdown of 1995 and 1996.

And on the issue of government shutdown, he remains totally unapologetic, writing recently in the Washington Post on Sunday: "[We] showed the country that we were serious about keeping our commitments."

Gingrich advised Republicans in Congress this time around 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. "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."

He's also been married three times and acknowledged problems in his personal life, a subject he was forced to address at a recent appearance at the University of Pennsylvania and one that is likely to come up again.

"I believe in a forgiving God," Gingrich said. "If the primary concern of the American people is my past, my candidacy would be irrelevant. If the primary concern of the American people is the future ... that's a debate I'll be happy to have."

The news that Gingrich will run makes good on a promise in mid February that he would make an announcement before the end of February or in early March.

Gingrich will 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, Fla.

"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," he told the audience.

Gingrich will have plenty of competition.

A recent Gallup poll shows him finishing fourth behind former governors Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, although it's unclear whether any of them will run.

ABC News' Michael Falcone and Gregory Simmons contributed to this report.

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