Newt Gingrich inches closer to presidential bid, dragging his feet along the way

Newt Gingrich

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had sent signals that he would declare himself the first well-known Republican to jump into the 2012 presidential race during an appearance Thursday.

After much build up, however, Gingrich did little more than announce the launch of a new website:

"We will look at this very seriously and we will very methodically lay out the framework of what we will do next," Gingrich said to a crew of reporters, clearly expecting more.

The journalists who followed Gingrich to the state capitol of his home state of Georgia had reason to believe today's "announcement" would be more significant.

"In 10 days, Newt Gingrich will be in Georgia, announcing his exploratory committee," Randy Evans, the Atlanta lawyer in charge of Newt Gingrich's business interests, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution late last month.

Shortly thereafter, Gingrich's team began walking back that claim, saying that the former congressman would merely be entering the "explore phase" of a presidential bid. Reports emerged that Gingrich may not have been able to deal with his various financial and legal entanglements in time to file for an exploratory committee.

The timing of the announcement, however, was still noteworthy given the context of the ongoing budget battle in Congress. Gingrich has encouraged Republicans to follow the example he set in 1995 and stand their ground, even in the face of a possible government shutdown.

Anticipation of his announcement surged again yesterday after Fox News suspended its contract with Gingrich, as well as its contract with former Sen. Rick Santorum, because of their possible presidential bids.

Gingrich seemed interested Thursday in reminding reporters that he's known for his intellectual chops, focusing on the issues he would address as a candidate.

"It is possible with the right policies, with the right values, to create dramatically more jobs with dramatically higher incomes," he said. "It is possible to establish American exceptionalism as the core value of this country... to dramatically shrink government in Washington to get back to a balanced budget."

He continued: "It is possible to strengthen and think through homeland and national security in a way that will make Americans dramatically safer."

To be sure, Gingrich has been laying the groundwork for a serious candidacy: The former speaker was one of the more visible national Republicans in Iowa -- a key early-nominating state -- for the past year and a half, Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn told reporters today.

Gingrich helped Iowa Republican candidates at all levels in the 2010 elections, which could possibly help him in the caucuses. He'll continue his visits to Iowa with a speech at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition next week.

But Gingrich's bungled handling of his announcement this week has raised eyebrows. And as Gingrich continues to drag his feet, some are wondering whether he has the charisma to successfully run for president -- and whether his past extramarital affair and multiple marriages will be too big a stumbling block for social conservatives.