The timing might not be the best — with Democrats and Republicans both holding debates within days of each other, they're sure to gobble up much of the air time. But Gingrich's hand may have been forced by Fred Thompson, who all but entered the race for the GOP nomination late last week. Both men have been touted as saviors for conservatives disgruntled with the current field, but Thompson is on track to enter the race well ahead of Gingrich.
Therefore, expect the former Speaker to punctuate the next few months with regular interviews and Sunday talk shows appearances, as well as major speeches. But Gingrich will need to do more than that to stay on the political radar without actually entering the race. His plan for doing so, based on recent statements, might be to distance himself from President Bush further than any GOP candidate has so far.
On Fox News Sunday, Gingrich took several shots at the Bush administration. "The government is not functioning. It's not getting the job done," he said. "Republicans need to confront this reality." And, in an earlier interview with the New Yorker magazine, he said Bush's 2004 re-election strategy, as designed by Karl Rove, was "maniacally dumb." His Friday speech, which will be delivered before the American Enterprise Institute, will not be anti-Bush, according to Gingrich, but will focus on what needs to change once Bush leaves office — implying the current president hasn't gotten the job done.
It's a very risky strategy. But while support for Bush remains high among conservatives, his strong backing of the immigration bill now before the Senate and recent rhetoric on climate change have left some on the right displeased with the president. If Gingrich can capitalize on that discontent, he may enter the race with a base — and, therefore, with a fighting chance. — David Miller
Same Topic, Different State: Iowa Democrats attending their party's big fundraising dinner Saturday got a sneak peak at the arguments which unfolded in the nationally televised New Hampshire on Sunday night. According to the Des Moines Register, the five presidential candidates on hand focused primarily on the war in Iraq, with John Edwards leading the anti-war charge.
"It is the time for backbone. It is the time for courage. It is the time for bold visionary leadership in this country. And the place that that begins is on the war in Iraq," Edwards said. Hillary Clinton largely brushed past the issue, according to the paper, while Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden hammered away at it. Barack Obama did not attend.
Anger at the war may prove a more important issue for Democrats in Iowa than New Hampshire. The Democratic caucuses in Iowa are largely dominated by activists who tend to reflect the core of the party. In New Hampshire, declared independents are allowed to vote in either party primary; they constitute a large block of the overall vote and are less likely to be swayed by a single issue. That may be one reason why Edwards is leading in Iowa but not New Hampshire. — Vaughn Ververs
Once More Unto The Breach: Far from backing down on his support for the immigration reform bill he is co-sponsoring in the Senate, John McCain has another message for critics within his own party — it's now or never. According to The Associated Press, McCain will warn fellow Republicans, including presidential rivals who have blasted the bill as a from of amnesty, that the problem of illegal immigration will be even more difficult to deal with in the future if this attempt fails.
"I would hope they wouldn't play politics for their own interests if the cost of their ambition was to make this problem even harder to solve," McCain was slated to say, according to an advanced transcript of his remarks. McCain has been stung with a backlash of Republicans who are fiercely opposed to it. He's also suffered under the impression that the once-maverick candidate of 2000 has turned into an establishment figure. Can he use immigration to re-establish that reputation? It's a risky gamble, but one McCain seems to be settled on making. — Vaughn Ververs
Time's Up: Chris Dodd's campaign helpfully kept track of the amount of time each candidate used up in last night's two-hour debate. The Talk Clock unsurprisingly showed that the three perceived front-runners ate up most of the time. Obama spoke most, taking up 16 minutes, while Clinton used more than 14 minutes to discuss her positions. John Edwards clocked in at almost 12 minutes, and Richardson almost 11. By design or due to the flow of the conversation, nobody else broke into double digits — except CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, whose questions used up more than 13 minutes of the total time. — Vaughn Ververs
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By David Miller and Vaughn Ververs