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Gingrich, with experience and baggage, joins race

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich arrives for a 2012 presidential exploratory committee fundraising event Wednesday, April 13, 2011 in Atlanta. He announced Monday that he will run.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich arrives for a 2012 presidential exploratory committee fundraising event Wednesday, April 13, 2011 in Atlanta. He announced Monday that he will run. Photo by The Associated Press.

ATLANTA (AP) — Newt Gingrich, the House speaker who led a national GOP resurgence in the 1990s before facing ethics questions and resigning, is running for president.

Gingrich's announcement, made on social networking websites Monday, came after months of public flirting with a bid. He enters a slow-to-form GOP presidential field that has left some Republicans craving more options as they search for a nominee strong enough to credibly challenge President Barack Obama.

The former Georgia congressman, well-known to most Republicans, brings to the race a years-in-the-making political machine with ties to early nominating states as well as a network of supporters and donors. But his personal baggage — he's acknowledged marital infidelity and has had two divorces — could hinder his chances of winning the party's presidential nomination more than a decade after leaving the House.

Still, he spoke confidently of wide support.

"I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich said in a Facebook posting that urged supporters to watch Fox News Channel on Wednesday. "I will be on to talk about my run for president of the United States."

Gingrich, 67, has spent months raising money, assembling a campaign team and visiting early primary-season states. He already has opened a headquarters in a suburb of Atlanta, and he will make his first speech as a candidate on Friday to the Georgia Republican Party Convention.

He is trying to position himself in the race as a policy heavyweight who used his time in Congress to overhaul welfare, balance the federal budget and cut taxes. Earlier this year, he outlined an energy policy overhaul, proposed an Environmental Solutions Agency to replace the Environmental Protection Agency and described Obama's policies as a "war on American energy."

Gingrich is among the field's best-known candidates; only 14 percent of Republican or GOP-leaning voters said they didn't know him in an Associated Press-GfK poll in March. Among Republicans and those who lean toward that party, 61 percent had a favorable opinion of him.

So far, several Republicans have formed campaign exploratory committees, including former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. And several others, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, are considering running.

"The more the better," Daniels told reporters in Indianapolis when asked about Gingrich. He said the former speaker's announcement would not affect his own decision.

Gingrich abruptly left office in 1999 after seeing his popularity plummet and Republicans lose big in midterm elections a year earlier. Since then, he has patched together a mini-empire of business and not-for-profit ventures and has pocketed hefty fees for writing books, making speeches and appearing as a contributor on Fox News, which last week ended his contract because of his expected candidacy.

He's spent decades building lists of supporters and donors, earning goodwill among activists and advising his party leaders on political strategy. His tax-exempt American Solutions for Winning the Future is a money-making powerhouse, bringing in $13.7 million last year, according to financial disclosures. A sizable chunk of that money has been used to ferry Gingrich around the country on a charter jet to appearances that have kept him in the public spotlight.

His presidential bid could be the culmination of a political career that began with his election to Congress in 1978.

More than a dozen years later, Gingrich led House Republicans to power in the 1994 elections with a "Contract With America," the first time the GOP had won control in four decades.

While in power, he used the political action campaign GOPAC to recruit, train and finance Republican candidates for offices from the House of Representatives to city halls.

But Gingrich's tenure at the helm of the House was turbulent.

A budget showdown with Democratic President Bill Clinton led to partial shutdowns of the federal government in 1995 and 1996. Gingrich shouldered much of the political blame at the time but now argues that the tactic led to deep cuts to federal spending and set the stage for welfare reform.

He spent much of his time in office dogged by ethics complaints. Nearly all, brought by Democrats, were dismissed.

But his Republican-led House reprimanded him in 1997 after he admitted misleading congressional investigators probing allegations that he misused tax-exempt dollars for a college class. Gingrich agreed to pay a $300,000 penalty — unprecedented at the time — to repay taxpayers for the cost of probe.

The Republican-led House committee never concluded whether tax laws were violated, and the IRS later cleared the organization involved.

Gingrich also was accused of hypocrisy for having an affair with a congressional aide while he was criticizing Clinton's own relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He divorced his second wife and married the aide, Callista Bisek. Now Callista Gingrich, she is closely involved in his political activities.

Recently, he's been highlighting his conversion to Catholicism and has said he has sought God's forgiveness. In an interview with a Christian broadcaster, Gingrich said his focus on his job contributed to his infidelity and the failure of his two previous marriages.

"If the primary concern of the American people is my past, my candidacy would be irrelevant," Gingrich told one interviewer.

Still, his record of infidelity could be a problem with social conservatives who will play a significant role in selecting the Republican nominee, particularly in early nominating states such as Iowa and South Carolina.

Even so, Gingrich has indicated he'll compete in both, hoping Republicans overlook his past personal problems and give him credit for being married to his current wife for more than a decade.


Philip Elliott reported from Washington.


Online:

Newt Gingrich: www.newtexplore2012.com

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