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Newt Gingrich to announce presidential exploratory plans

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA), speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), on February 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Updated 10:16 a.m. Eastern Time Wednesday

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich will announce tomorrow that he is entering the "explore phase" of a bid to seek the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, CBS News has learned.

Contrary to earlier reporting spurred by comments from Gingrich aides, he will stop short of unveiling the formation of an official presidential exploratory committee, which requires filing federal paperwork that Gingrich may not be ready to do for a variety of legal reasons.

Gingrich is scheduled to hold a public appearance with Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal -- a Gingrich supporter -- on Thursday. Next week he will head to the key first caucus state of Iowa for a speech to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.

"2010 was the appetizer, 2012 is the entree," Gingrich said recently to an enthusiastic crowdat the Conservative Political Action Conference's annual gathering in Washington.

Gingrich will be the first top-tier candidate to even semi-officially announce any intention to run against President Obama in 2012. Of the other contenders, only Atlanta talk show host Herman Cain has officially filed paperwork. Some potential candidates, including Senator John Thune and Representative Mike Pence, have said they are not running amid concerns that Mr. Obama could be difficult to beat.

Starting the "exploratory" phase of a presidential run allows a candidate to begin the formal process of lining up donors, ground support and campaign aides - the idea being that when he makes his official announcement, he will be able to have a campaign apparatus up and running. While Gingrich advisers have said publicly and privately Gingrich would be forming an exploratory committee this week, his office walked back those claims Wednesday, saying he will not be doing so.

The timing of his appearance is nonetheless interesting in part because it comes during a week when most of Washington has been focused on the possibility of a government shutdown. House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House are working to come to an agreement to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

The last time there was a shutdown was in 1995, when then-Speaker Gingrich led a defiant House Republican majority to a showdown with President Bill Clinton over spending and a balanced budget. The shutdown was largely seen to have benefited Mr. Clinton politically while hurting Gingrich and other Republicans.

But Gingrich sees the standoff in a more positive light. Here's what he wrote this weekend in The Washington Post:

"The ultimate result was the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s, paying off more than $450 billion in federal debt. We also overhauled welfare - the most successful and popular entitlement reform of our lifetime - strengthened Medicare and enacted the first tax cut in 16 years. It was this tax cut that boosted economic growth and allowed us to balance the budget four years earlier than projected. During my years as speaker, more than 8.4 million new jobs were created, reducing the national unemployment rate from 5.6 percent to 4.3 percent."

"Neither these historic achievements nor this historic win would have been possible had Republicans not stood firm and showed the country that we were serious about keeping our commitments," he added.

As Hotsheet noted Monday, the former speaker has already sought to build a relationship with conservative voters, traveling to early nominating states like Iowa and New Hampshire, while broaching the subject of his multiple marriages and past extramarital affair in the context of his conversion to Christianity.

A Gallup poll released last week showed that Republicans and Republican-leaning voters have no clear favorite out of the potential 2012 nominees. Gingrich received support from 9 percent of respondents, trailing former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Sarah Palin of Alaska.

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