Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told the Associated Press this week during a trip to Iowa that he has "never been this serious" about running for president. But what are his chances?
Financially, the Republican stalwart is in excellent condition. Politico reports that his political action groups, foremost among them, American Solutions for Winning the Future, raised nearly $3.5 million during the past three months: an impressive windfall for a politician who has yet to announce plans for a definitive candidacy.
The website is quick to point out some of the problems stemming from certain donations however. Gingrich's advocacy group received, for instance, $500,000 in contribution from a controversial casino magnate and another $100,000 from the Dallas based Plains Exploration and Production Company which owns deepwater drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. "American Solutions has positioned itself as a leader in supporting offshore oil drilling and opposing efforts to make it easier to form unions," notes Politico.
[T]hose contributions, combined with earlier donations from energy companies and fiercely anti-union businessmen, can be expected to fuel opponents' allegations that Gingrich has been engaged in pay-to-play politics since leaving Congress in 1999.
At the same time, American Solutions has a major fundraising advantage. As a so-called 527 group, it can accept unlimited contributions prohibited by rules governing federal election campaigns and political action committees.
So Gingrich is likely to have the means to fund a presidential campaign. Does he have the appeal to make it through?
At February's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Gingrich received a meager 4 percent of the votes in the event's presidential straw poll, far behind libertarian Texas Congressman Ron Paul. So did former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee though, and he's considered a likely Republican frontrunner for the 2012 race nonetheless.
CPAC participants listed "reducing the size of Federal Government" as their priority and Gingrich has been carefully trying to boost his fiscal conservative credentials since. Last April he lambasted Democrats in a Washington Post op-ed for turning America into a "secular-socialist machine." The Obama Administration, he alleged, was ignoring the will of the people, enacting socialist policies and actively denying America's religious heritage. But above all, it plunged the country in the red with a stimulus package that has yet to yield results.
His latest book, To Save America, expresses a similar sentiment, blaming the administration of using the recession as an excuse to expand government. As early as March 2009, Gingrich thrashed Republicans for allowing increased spending during the Bush Administration and for not doing enough to block President Obama's early initiatives. As Americans identify the deficit as their number one concern, Gingrich promises to restore balance to the budget and save America from mounting debt. He hasn't been really clear yet on how to do it though.
The former Speaker may be able to bridge the divide between small government conservatives and libertarians currently rallying behind the Tea Party movement on the one hand and the Religious Right on the other but he should take care not to cosy up to either camp, in which case moderate, centrist voters will likely swing to the left in 2012.