GINGRICH
Steve Pope  /  AP
Former House Speaker and Potential 2012 GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich during a book signing, May 11, 2005, in West Des Moines, Iowa.
By
updated 3/25/2011 10:30:47 AM ET 2011-03-25T14:30:47

Newt Gingrich could find it's not so easy to go home again.

The former House speaker is using Georgia to anchor his presidential campaign strategy. He's counting on his old home state to provide a crucial base of support and a backdrop to help him escape the stigma of Washington insider at a time when the public detests anything linked to the capital or its levers of power.

But Georgia is no sure bet for Gingrich.

"Newt's been gone from Georgia for quite a while now. ... And the shelf life in politics is pretty short," says state Sen. Don Balfour.

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Gingrich represented the state for 10 terms in Congress, but he's lived in a tony Washington suburb for more than a decade. The strong evangelical base that helped former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee win Georgia in the 2008 GOP primary may not rush to back the thrice-married Gingrich. And some in the state, who remember Gingrich's stormy time at the helm of the U.S. House, say they're simply looking for a fresh nominee with less baggage.

Big-name Georgia Republicans, including current Gov. Nathan Deal and former Gov. Sonny Perdue, support a Gingrich presidential run. But there is less enthusiasm in the grass roots.

"He's yesterday," said state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, a veteran Republican state lawmaker, vocalizing a key vulnerability for Gingrich.

Linda Douglas, a Republican from Gingrich's former congressional district in Cobb County, shrugged at the mention of Gingrich's name and said: "Newt was great in the '90s but really, his time seems like it's long gone."

Gingrich turns 68 in June.

Still, Gingrich has said he's counting on Georgia to play a big part in his probable presidential bid. Two prominent congressmen — Jack Kingston and Phil Gingrey — have both said they'll back him if he runs. Gingrey labeled him the state's favorite son, and Kingston says there's hardly an elected official in Georgia who hasn't attended and maybe even benefited from a fundraiser or event where he's appeared.

Story: The 2012 GOP presidential field

When Gingrich announced that he had set up a website to explore a bid and raise money, he did it at the Georgia Capitol, flanked by the state's top-ranking Republicans. Former Gov. Zell Miller is already lined up as a national co-chairman of Gingrich's campaign and he has said he will open an Atlanta headquarters once he officially enters the race.

Gingrich announces ... a website

Using Georgia as a staging ground allows Gingrich to try to put some distance between himself and Washington, where those seen as closely tied to the capital fared poorly in last year's midterm elections. A base in Georgia will also allow him to reach out to neighboring states like South Carolina, seen as a crucial early primary state for Gingrich if he's to be a serious White House contender.

But if he doesn't win here, it could evoke memories of Al Gore, a former Tennessee senator, setting up shop to run for president in Tennessee and then losing the state in the general election.

Gingrich already has inflated his support in Georgia. He has said he has the support of House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, but both men told The Associated Press they hadn't selected a candidate yet. And the political action committee for Mitt Romney — another top GOP prospect for 2012 — has funneled money to both.

Gingrich voted in Georgia most recently in 2000, the same year he and his wife, Callista, bought a home in McLean, Va., records show.

Gingrich the 'godfather' of Georgia Republicans
Asked about Gingrich, the state's senior U.S. senator, Saxby Chambliss, chose his words carefully. He called his old U.S. House colleague "one of the most astute political minds in the country."

But he added, "There obviously is a lot of baggage. No question about it."

Still, Gingrich was a Republican in Georgia long before the label became fashionable. He curried many favors in the state over the years, raising money for scores of current officeholders and laying the foundation for the GOP party takeover in the state that had been ruled for generations by Democrats.

"He is the godfather of the Republican Party in Georgia," Kingston said.

Deal lined up behind Gingrich early in part because of their long history together. Gingrich backed Deal at a critical juncture in the state's GOP primary last summer, providing a counterweight to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was supporting his runoff opponent.

It wasn't the first time Gingrich stepped in to help Deal. When Deal, then a Democratic U.S. representative, became a Republican in 1995, Gingrich helped him keep his seniority on committees and avoid a primary challenge.

But Deal's hold over the state Republican Party apparatus isn't assured. His choice for state party chairwoman is locked in a tough battle for the job.

Other Georgia Republicans who once were avowed Gingrich backers have become disillusioned watching him over the years.

Lee Howell, who worked as a Gingrich campaign press secretary, won't be casting a ballot for his old boss if he runs.

"If I was giving a cocktail party and wanted to have good conversation ... I'd want Newt to be there," Howell said. "I'm not sure that he would be the kind of person, would have the skills necessary to be president."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

  • A look at the Republican candidates hoping to challenge Barack Obama in the general election.

  • Rick Perry, announced Aug. 13

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    Sean Gardner  /  REUTERS
    Texas Gov. Rick Perry

    Mere hours before a major GOP debate in Iowa (and a couple of days before the high-interest Ames straw poll), the Perry camp announced that the Texas governor was all-in for 2012.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas governor.

    While some on ground in the early-caucus state criticized the distraction, strategists applauded the move and said Perry was giving Romney a run for his money.

    Slideshow: A look at Gov. Rick Perry's political career

    He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

  • Jon Huntsman, announced June 21

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    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

    Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, made his bid official on June 21 at at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former governor of Utah.

    He vowed to provide "leadership that knows we need more than hope" and "leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems."

    The early days of his campaign were clouded with reports of internal discord among senior staffers.

    Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr.

    Huntsman, who is Mormon, worked as a missionary in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin. But his moderate credentials — backing civil unions for gays and the cap-and-trade energy legislation — could hurt him in a GOP primary. So could serving under Obama.

  • Michele Bachmann, announced on June 13

    Image: Michele Bachmann
    Larry Downing  /  REUTERS
    Rep. Michele Bachmann

    Born and raised in Iowa, this Tea Party favorite and Minnesota congresswoman announced during a June 13 GOP debate that she's officially in the running for the Republican nomination.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Minn. congresswoman.

    Bachmann tells The Associated Press she decided to jump into the 2012 race at this time because she believed it was "the right thing to do."

    She's been criticized for making some high-profile gaffes — among them, claiming taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for President Barack Obama's trip to India and identifying New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots.

    Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann

    But Bachmann's proved a viable fundraiser, collecting more than $2 million in political contributions in the first 90 days of 2011 — slightly exceeding the $1.8 million Mitt Romney brought in via his PAC in the first quarter.

  • Rick Santorum, announced on June 6

    Image: Rick Santorum
    Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
    Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum

    A staunch cultural conservative vehemently against abortion and gay marriage, the former Pennsylvania senator hopes to energize Republicans with a keen focus on social issues.

    He announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on FOX News, where he makes regular appearances. He make his run official on June 6 in Somerset, Pa., asking supporters to "Join the fight!"

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Pennsylvania senator.

    No stranger to controversy, Santorum was condemned by a wide range of groups in 2003 for equating homosexuality with incest, pedophilia and bestiality. More recently, Santorum faced criticism when he called Obama’s support for abortion rights “almost remarkable for a black man.”

    Slideshow: Rick Santorum's political life

    Since his defeat by Democrat Robert Casey in his 2006 re-election contest — by a whopping 18 percentage points — Santorum has worked as an attorney and as a think-tank contributor.

    A February straw poll at CPAC had him in twelfth place amongst Republicans with 2 percent of the vote.

  • Mitt Romney, announced on June 2

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Paul Sancya  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential candidate Mitt Romney

    The former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate has spent the last three years laying the foundations for another run at the White House — building a vigorous political action committee, making regular media appearances, and penning a policy-heavy book.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Mass. governor.

    In April, he announced, via YouTube and Twitter, that he'd formed an exploratory commitee. Romney made his run official in Stratham, N.H., on June 2.

    The former CEO of consulting firm Bain & Company and the president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney frequently highlights his business background as one of his main qualifications to serve as president.

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    To capture the nomination, Romney will have to defend the health care overhaul he enacted during his governorship — legislation that bears similarities to the Obama-backed bill despised by many conservatives. He'll also have to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper (like supporting abortion rights in his 1994 and 2002 bids for office, but opposing them in his '08 run).

    In the first quarter of 2011, he netted some $1.8 million through his PAC "Free and Strong America."

  • Herman Cain, announced on May 21

    Image: Herman Cain
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images file
    Talk show host Herman Cain

    Cain, an Atlanta radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has support from some Tea Party factions.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Atlanta radio host.

    An African-American who describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate,” he was the first Republican to form a formal presidential exploratory committee. He officially entered the race in May, telling supporters, "When we wake up and they declare the presidential results, and Herman Cain is in the White House, we'll all be able to say, free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, this nation is free at last, again!"

    Prior to the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, Cain rehashed the birther theory, telling a Florida blogger, “I respect people that believe he should prove his citizenship ... He should prove he was born in the United States of America.”

  • Ron Paul, announced on May 13

    Image: Ron Paul
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Rep. Ron Paul

    In 2008, Texas congressman Ron Paul’s libertarian rallying cry — and his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — did not fall on deaf ears. An idiosyncratic foe of the Federal Reserve and a passionate advocate for limited government, Paul mounted a presidential run that was characterized by bursts of jaw-dropping online fundraising.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas congressman.

    Slideshow: Ron Paul

    He officially launched his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, saying, ""The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building ... Our time has come."

    In the first quarter of 2011, raked in some $3 million through his various political organizations.

  • Newt Gingrich, announced on May 11

    Image: Newt Gingrich
    John M. Heller  /  Getty Images file
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich remains a robust presence on the GOP stage as a prolific writer and political thinker. In recent years, Barack Obama has provided a new target for the blistering critiques Gingrich famously leveled at President Bill Clinton.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former speaker of the House.

    In early May, he made his 2012 run official. "I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.

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