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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 02/ 3/2011

Newt Gingrich, underrated

By Chris Cillizza

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a very likely candidate for president in 2012. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Is it possible that Newt Gingrich -- the most prominent Republican politician on the national stage for much of the 1990s -- is being overlooked as he prepares for a near-certain presidential run in 2012?

Amazingly, yes.

Gingrich is widely expected to make the race -- the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that he is already scoping out campaign office space in Georgia -- and in most national polling he is one of a quartet of candidates who receives double digit support in a hypothetical 2012 primary matchup.

Gingrich is also a charismatic speaker and able debater, and almost certainly will occupy the "ideas guy" space in the field -- no matter who winds up running.

And yet, most GOP political observers seem to regard Gingrich as a pleasant distraction rather than a serious contender. His detractors note that Gingrich is the Icarus of Republican politics -- he flies high but always winds up going just a little too close to the sun. They also point to his turbulent personal life -- he has been married three times -- as a non-starter with many social conservative voters.


But, as we noted in our Monday Fix column earlier this week, every candidate in the 2012 field has a major flaw (or flaws), meaning that the nomination is likely to be won by the candidate who best minimizes his problems and plays up his assets.

Given that, dismissing Gingrich out of hand -- particularly given his skills as a candidate -- seems foolish.

And, one look at Gingrich's strength in Iowa -- the state that will kick off the 2012 nomination fight -- should cure any doubts about his viability in the field.

Eyebrows were raised recently when Iowa state House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer said Gingrich was the "right guy to be president of the United States". But, veteran Hawkeye State observers said that the Upmeyer endorsement was evidence of the deep connections the former House Speaker has cultivated in the state.

"Newt has a long history with Iowa Republicans," said one veteran Iowa Republican strategist. "Throughout the 90s all the way to today, he is one of a handful of Republicans who consistently draws large crowds and attracts attention and support for his work. Iowa Republicans feel like they know him."

Gingrich has been a regular presence in Iowa of late; late last month he spoke at the Iowa Renewable Fuel Association's annual gathering in which he called for the abolishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. He made seven stops in Iowa during 2010.

Gingrich also donated heavily to Iowa Republicans at the state legislative level -- contributing $100,000 from his American Solutions political action committee to the Iowa House Majority Fund. (Republicans re-took control of the state House in 2010.) Gingrich also raised and donated a combined $250,000 for Iowa Republicans and various conservative organizations in the state, including $80,000 alone at a Polk County Republican dinner in May 2010.

And, as one senior Republican strategist in the state noted, one of Gingrich's closest advisers, Joe Gaylord, is an Iowa native and
"knows the terrain here well."

A win in the Iowa caucuses would almost certainly propel Gingrich into contention in primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond where his staying power -- always a question mark with the mercurial former Georgia congressman -- would be tested.

"No matter who gets in the GOP presidential race, Newt will be in the final three," predicted one senior Republican consultant who is currently unaligned in the presidential contest.

That sort of statement might be dismissed as hyperbole by some within the party but Gingrich's inroads in Iowa suggests that simply writing the former Speaker off is a major mistake.

By Chris Cillizza  | February 3, 2011; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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