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Gingrich joining race, staking turf

Will head to Iowa; sway in N.H. uncertain

Gingrich courts the GOP right. Gingrich courts the GOP right.
By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / May 10, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Newt Gingrich signaled yesterday that he is running for president, giving the wide-open GOP field a conservative packing considerable name recognition but also a personal history that could hobble his candidacy in some states.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the House best known for his tilts with President Clinton over budgets and personal foibles, will be the first high-profile GOP contender to officially enter the race. The announcement will come tomorrow, Gingrich said yesterday on social networking websites.

Some national polls have shown him near the front-runners among expected GOP candidates. But in the crucial first-in- the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, the prospect of a Gingrich candidacy has not sparked much enthusiasm to date. Election analysts say his brand of social conservatism may not resonate with most Republican voters or pose an immediate threat to the presumed front-runner there, Mitt Romney.

“He’s much better suited for Iowa or South Carolina than he is for New Hampshire,’’ said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which has included Gingrich in its polling for the past year and a half. Gingrich, he said, “has a problem in that he’s known as a more conservative candidate — and somebody who’s a lightning rod in American politics’’ — qualities that don’t always play well with New Hampshire voters.

In a poll last month of likely GOP primary voters in the Granite State, more viewed Gingrich unfavorably than viewed him favorably. Romney, by comparison, had a favorability rating of 70 percent.

Gingrich, however, could improve his profile in the state with more activity, analysts said.

“Mitt Romney has to be considered the front-runner, but I do see others starting to gain ground and inroads,’’ said Jack Kimball, the newly elected GOP chairman in New Hampshire. “And I think Newt Gingrich is a candidate who will certainly have an effect on the numbers.’’

Gingrich has made only two trips to New Hampshire so far this year, but he has signed up a top GOP consultant, Dave Carney. He has also been making a concerted effort to reach out to the Tea Party movement in the state.

“Once he gets going, his message will be very appealing to Tea Party folks and conservatives generally,’’ said Andrew Hemingway, a Tea Party activist who is chairman of the state’s Republican Liberty Caucus and had recently spent an hour meeting privately with Gingrich.

After making his announcement, Gingrich will seek to seize the spotlight and jumpstart the primary race through a series of high-profile speeches and appearances. His first official campaign stop next week will be in Iowa, a state where social conservatives are far more influential and where he has made at least four trips this year.

Gingrich’s candidacy, however, could face several challenges early. He has been married three times; his second marriage ended with the revelation that he was having an affair at the same time he was criticizing his nemesis, Clinton, for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Gingrich also could face questions of political relevancy, since it has been more than a dozen years since he quit Capitol Hill.

“It seems like it’s a ‘Back to the Future’ kind of thing,’’ said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Republicans want to move forward but the party always seems to want to bring out the old warhorses.’’

Gingrich, 67, began his political career in 1978 as a congressman from Georgia and in 1994 led House Republicans to power in part by promoting a “Contract With America’’ that advocated smaller government and lower taxes. The next year he became speaker and engaged in a political showdown with Clinton that led to partial shutdowns of the federal government.

Gingrich took most of the blame, and he stepped down after Republicans lost power in 1998.

More recently, he has pitched himself as an intellectual heavyweight ready to again advocate for smaller government. In recent stump speeches, he has reportedly also called for restrictions on abortion funding as part of foreign aid; new requirements that public school students be annually taught the Declaration of Independence; and more drilling for offshore oil.

Gingrich’s presidential announcement is one of a series of upcoming events that could put the slow-moving Republican field into sharper focus.

Although he will become the first prominent Republican contender to make a formal declaration, other candidates have made little secret of their intentions.

Other candidates — including Romney, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and former Senator Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania — have formed exploratory committees, which allow them to begin raising money for such a bid, but have not yet taken the next step of declaring their candidacies.

Several potential candidates who could shake up the race are expected to make decisions over the next few weeks, including Mitch Daniels of Indiana and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr.

Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, has also been toying with another run.

Donald Trump, who has attracted ample attention as well as grousing from the party establishment, is also planning to make his second trip to New Hampshire tomorrow.

Gingrich is planning to make the official announcement on Facebook and Twitter, before going on Fox News tomorrow night.

“I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run,’’ Gingrich wrote yesterday on Facebook.

He is planning his first speech as a presidential candidate on Friday at a Republican convention in his home state of Georgia, according to spokesman Rick Tyler.

Gingrich will also head to Eureka, Ill. — Ronald Reagan’s hometown — on Saturday to deliver the commencement address at Eureka College.

The announcement from the former House speaker, who said two months ago that he was exploring a run for president, has been widely expected. But he has had to untangle his relationship with a variety of organizations that he has run in recent years.

Those organizations — some advocating for such positions as expanded drilling of oil offshore and promoting the role of religion, others to promote his books and a series of documentaries — have helped him assemble lists of potential supporters but they cannot support him financially once he has declared as a candidate.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, this story mischaracterized the status of Republicans in the US House in 1998. The party had lost five seats in the midterm elections but still held a majority when Gingrich resigned as speaker.