Gingrich Ready to ‘Test the Waters’

BY Terence Burlij  March 3, 2011 at 8:22 AM EDT

Newt Gingrich; Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Newt Gingrich is entering the “exploratory phase” of a 2012 presidential bid. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Updated: 3:00 p.m. ET

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced Thursday he had launched a website to explore a possible presidential bid. Gingrich did not go so far as to say he was “testing the waters,” as members of his staff have done in recent days. Instead, he indicated that he and his wife, Callista, would look at the opportunity “seriously” and “methodically lay out the framework of what we will do next.”

Original Post 9:00 a.m. ET

For Newt Gingrich, Thursday is the day… sort of.

The former speaker of the House is expected to announce that he plans to start testing the presidential waters at a 2:30 p.m. ET news conference at the Georgia state capitol in Atlanta.

Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler told the Associated Press Wednesday night that the former Georgia congressman “is entering the exploratory phase” of a presidential bid, but stopping short of forming an exploratory committee, a step that would have made him a full blown candidate in the eyes of the Federal Election Commission.

His decision to “test the waters” means Gingrich can raise money, hire campaign staff and conduct polling to gauge his presidential prospects. He would only need to disclose his fund-raising and spending totals if he launches an official White House bid.

Another factor in Gingrich’s decision not to go full steam ahead is the matter of his personal finances. Tyler explained that Gingrich and his wife, Callista, “oversee a web of commercial and nonprofit ventures and must tie up some loose ends with those businesses before they can take that step,” according to the AP.

One potential complication for Gingrich was cleared up Wednesday when Fox News Channel suspended his contract with the network for 60 days. If Gingrich doesn’t inform Fox that he’s not running for president by May 1, his contract will be terminated.

The same ultimatum was given to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, another on-air contributor to Fox, who is also giving serious thought to entering the race.

Two other Fox contributors, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, didn’t have their contracts suspended. The network said it would take similar actions with Huckabee and Palin once they show “some serious intention to form an exploratory committee.”

For now, though, the focus will be on Gingrich, who becomes the first major candidate to dip his toe in the presidential waters.

Having the field pretty much to himself certainly has its perks (lots of media attention and the ability to shape the early debate), but it also comes with some drawbacks (heavy media scrutiny). Take the dissection of Thursday’s event over the past 48 hours as one example, and it’s only just the start.

ROEMER’S ALL IN

In contrast to Gingrich’s cautious approach, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer is going full speed ahead with a run for the Republican nomination.

At the exact time Gingrich is scheduled to meet with reporters in Atlanta, Roemer will be in Baton Rouge, La., announcing the formation of an exploratory committee.

Roemer becomes the second candidate to take that step, following former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain, who did so in mid-January. Both men are long shots (and we’re being generous here) for the GOP nomination, but could certainly liven up some of the upcoming debates if they’re able to demonstrate staying power into the summer.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday, Roemer said his message would focus on fixing the country’s political system. “The politics is corrupt in Washington, D.C. I call it institutional corruption,” Roemer said.

To prove he’s serious about running on a clean government message, Roemer pledged that he would only accept individual’s contributions and limit the donations to $100 per person for the entire campaign.

“I think the president needs to be free to lead,” Roemer said.

Roemer served four terms in the House as a Democrat in the 1980s before running for governor in 1987. He switched parties while in office in 1991 and went on to lose his GOP primary to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Roemer said he plans to travel to early nominating states, starting with Iowa. On Monday, he’ll participate in an event for social conservatives in Waukee, Iowa, where other Republican hopefuls, including Cain, Gingrich, Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul will also be in attendance.

HANDS OFF MY ENTITLEMENTS

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that a vast majority of Americans oppose significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Even people who identify as part of the Tea Party said by an almost a 2-to-1 margin that they oppose big cuts to Social Security.

A majority of poll respondents approve, however, reducing those entitlement benefits for wealthy Americans and raising the retirement age to 69, from the current 66.

Government spending has become a top domestic topic since the Tea Party movement helped propel the Republican Party to massive gains in the House of Representatives in November.

In a January report, the Congressional Budget Office explained that as the nation gets older, health care spending will force big spending increases:

The aging of the population and rising costs for health care will push federal spending as a percentage of GDP well above that in recent decades. Specifically, spending on the government’s major mandatory health care programs — Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and health insurance subsidies to be provided through insurance exchanges — along with Social Security will increase from roughly 10 percent of GDP in 2011 to about 16 percent over the next 25 years.

The federal government is facing massive debt and record deficits — which has led the GOP to focus on cutting discretionary non-security spending, which only accounts for a fraction of the total budget. The Simpson-Bowles commission on the deficit last year recommended cuts to both Social Security and Medicare in order to balance the budget.

Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who ran the survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart, told the Wall Street Journal the poll results are “a huge flashing yellow sign for Republicans on how much preparation will be needed if they propose to change Social Security and Medicare.”

Republican leaders have said they plan to address entitlement reform during this Congress.

ANOTHER RETIREMENT

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, announced Wednesday that he would not seek another term in 2012, making him the seventh senator to announce retirement this cycle.

“As many of you can imagine, it was a very difficult decision for me,” Sen Akaka said in a statement. “However, I feel that the end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside. It has been a great honor and privilege to serve the people of Hawaii. In 2006, the people of Hawaii gave me an opportunity to continue my service in the United States Senate and I fully intend to serve the last two years of my term in office.”

Hawaii is a safe state for Democrats, and the party issued a statement Wednesday saying it will “absolutely keep” Sen. Akaka’s seat. Other retirements, like Virginia’s Jim Webb and North Dakota’s Kent Conrad, could prove more difficult for Democrats to keep.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that at least six Democrats are waiting to run for the seat.

A possible Republican candidate could be former Gov. Linda Lingle.

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