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Gingrich affirms presidential intentions

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Gingrich is "beginning an exploratory phase," spokesman Rick Tyler says
  • He is not forming an exploratory committee at this time, Tyler says
  • A more aggressive phase of the GOP primary campaign is looming, one party official says

(CNN) -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Thursday that he is taking the first official step toward a presidential bid.

"We will look at this very seriously and we will very methodically lay out the framework of what we'll do next," Gingrich said during a news conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Gingrich, who appeared alongside Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, announced the launch of the website to accompany the exploratory phase. The site is paid for by "Newt Exploratory 2012."

Earlier in the day, he told Georgia radio host Martha Zoller that "Callista and I prepared to see if there are enough folks who want to see if we can get this country back on the right track."

Gingrich is "beginning an exploratory phase," spokesman Rick Tyler said. How long this phase will last, he said, "depends on the success for the phase."

Gingrich is not forming an exploratory committee at this time, Tyler said, and one reason is that he and his wife "have several businesses" and they need to "tie up some loose ends."

The announcement comes just days after Gingrich's political team scrambled to clarify the Republican's presidential intentions after multiple news organizations reported that Gingrich planned to announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee during his trip to Georgia on Thursday.

Throughout the day, Republicans familiar with Gingrich's plans told numerous media outlets, including CNN, that Gingrich would enter a presidential exploratory phase that would include formation of a committee.

But Tyler circulated a statement to reporters Tuesday night contradicting that announcement, saying "Speaker Gingrich is in Georgia on Thursday, he will NOT announce the formation of an exploratory committee."

Gingrich explores running for President
1994: Gingrich's 'Contract with America'
1995: Gingrich becomes House Speaker
1997: GOP attempts to oust Gingrich
1998: Gingrich won't seek re-election

Thursday's announcement means he will not file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to form a committee.

Gingrich is the first top Republican to take a deeper step into the 2012 presidential waters.

It's a move that isn't lost on Iowa's Republican Party chairman, Matt Strawn, who said that it will trigger a more aggressive phase of the GOP primary campaign.

"A lot of the activity that's been happening under the radar, you're going to see out in the open in fairly short order," Strawn told CNN during a visit to Washington this week.

He downplayed chatter that some potential Republican contenders might take a pass on competing in Iowa because of the powerful role social conservatives play in the caucuses.

Social conservatives are likely to be upset with Gingrich's background: Two divorces and ethics violations surrounding him.

Gingrich first arrived on the national political scene when, a few years after being elected to the House, he pushed ethics violations charges against then-Speaker Jim Wright, who later resigned.

While Gingrich's quest to topple Wright helped him become the deputy leader of House Republicans in 1989, what solidified his place in American political history was his championing of the 1994 Contract With America, a blueprint for changes the GOP pledged it would bring to Congress if it gained control of the House.

The contract required that all laws the public had to abide by also apply to Congress, limited the terms of committee chairmen and required a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase.

The contract helped propel the GOP to its first majority in the House in 40 years and got Gingrich, a representative from Georgia, elected speaker.

Soon Gingrich was battling the Clinton White House as congressional Republicans pushed government cuts to help balance the budget. Both sides dug in and there were two government shutdowns. Gingrich and congressional Republicans came out the political losers.

Gingrich also had to confront numerous ethics charges brought by Democrats. He voluntarily turned in a $4.5 million book advance after the House Ethics Committee questioned its appropriateness. He was found to have wrongly used tax-exempt funds to teach a college course.

In 1997 he paid a $300,000 fine and reprimanded by the House as a result of his using tax-exempt funds to promote Republican causes and lying to ethics investigators.

Republicans kept control of the House for a third consecutive term in the 1998 elections, but won fewer seats than expected. Gingrich resigned as speaker and left Congress the next year.

Over the next decade, Gingrich mounted a comeback, taking to the lecture circuit to expound on his numerous ideas about how to reform government and society -- including creating a new Social Security system based on what one contributes, completely revamping the country's energy policy, and replacing the Environmental Protection Agency with a new Environmental Solutions Agency.

He also formed a successful think tank, called American Solutions for Winning the Future, which he used to help develop and communicate his ideas.

His visibility was elevated when he joined Fox News as a contributor, which gave him a national platform to comment on the news and promote a number of books he has written on subjects ranging from the American political scene to Ronald Reagan.

Fox announced on Wednesday that it was suspending the contracts of Gingrich and a fellow contributor, Republican former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, until they make decisions about running for president.

Gingrich is also a prolific fundraiser. American Solutions raised more than $3.8 million between October and the end of December 2010 and almost $14 million over the entire year. The American Solutions political action committee raised an additional $425,000 from October through December. With those numbers, Gingrich outpaced his potential 2012 rivals in money brought in.

Republican consultants not affiliated with any prospective campaign said they believe Gingrich as a presidential candidate offers positives as well as negatives.

CNN's Kevin Bohn, Peter Hamby, Ed Hornick and Rob Yoon contributed to this story.