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John Thune’s Choice a Sign of Worry Over Newt Gingrich

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

“Those are all hypotheticals,” Thune said. “I made a decision to do this not predicated upon any of that. But I certainly want to be helpful to the degree that I can to [Romney], and to his team, because I concluded that he’s the right person.”

The average of polls taken Nov. 8 through Tuesday gauging an Obama-Gingrich contest gave the president a lead of 48.7 percent to 43 percent. By comparison, Obama led Romney 45.9 percent to 44.4 percent, and the former governor has bested Obama in several polls taken this fall.

Republicans, while lauding Gingrich’s depth of knowledge and role as a GOP leader over the course of his 33 years in public life, including a two-decade House career, have serious concerns about his viability in a general election against Obama.

One GOP lobbyist described Gingrich as a “target-rich environment for a negative campaign,” echoing concerns on the Hill that the former Speaker might drag down the ticket.

Gingrich’s past includes personal foibles and professional hiccups. He is on his third marriage and it is widely known that the first two ended after bouts of infidelity. His Speakership, while historic and marked with major conservative policy achievements, ended after he lost a battle over government spending with President Bill Clinton, whose party gained five seats in the 1998 midterms despite the impeachment scandal.

Gingrich also was the subject of Congressional ethics investigations.

After retiring, he conducted work that has been referred to by some as lobbying, while also displaying philosophical flexibility. He taped an ad with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about climate change and at one point expressed support for a health insurance mandate — an issue that has dogged
Romney. Gingrich has said on the campaign trail he regrets the Pelosi stunt.

Republicans also worry that he is simply not likable, particularly among women, an often-important attribute in presidential elections.

“A Gingrich nomination would hurt our efforts to take the Senate and hold the House. Obama has $1 billion to savage our nominee,” said the Republican lobbyist, who has Senate ties.

The lobbyist believes Romney would help the GOP win the Senate majority. “Romney may not be a god, but he is not harmful,” the lobbyist said.

“The problem with Newt on the top of the ticket is that he’s the past. Obama has already proven he can beat the past,” added a GOP strategist with Senate clients. “We need a nominee who can win the present and the future. I’m not sure Newt ever gets to have a debate about the future.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas)  declined to comment directly on the GOP presidential primary contest. But he said it is important for his party to nominate an individual who proves that he or she can beat Obama next November. Cornyn said he expects Republican primary voters to unify behind just such a candidate.

“Certainly the better our nominee does, particularly in a lot of these states like Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, where we picked up seats in 2010 — that will certainly help quite a bit,” he said. “I think electability is quickly becoming the test.”

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