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Senators Share Georgia Pride for Gingrich, Cain

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (above) has high praise for Newt Gingrich, calling him “the smartest politician I know.”

Some of the Republicans who know Newt Gingrich best said this week that it is too soon to write off the former Speaker’s presidential candidacy following his much-maligned criticism of a House GOP plan to overhaul Medicare.

But in separate interviews Wednesday, Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson suggested that this might not be the last time their fellow Georgian gets himself into hot water with conservative activists and Republican primary voters.

Both Republican Senators also were complimentary of Peach State businessman Herman Cain, saying that the other GOP candidates in the field underestimate the wealthy long shot at their peril. Cain set up a presidential exploratory committee in January and is expected to announce this month that he will run.

The Senators said they planned to remain neutral in the GOP presidential primary for the foreseeable future.

“Newt’s the smartest politician I know,” said Chambliss, who was first elected to Congress in the 1994 Republican revolution led by Gingrich. “He’s a great communicator, he has really good ideas and I think he’d made a very good president. He’s known from day one he’s got issues he’s got to overcome. But, shucks, because he is such a smart guy, he understands all of that, and there are bumps in the road in any campaign — and he’s going through one of those bumps.

“If this is the worst hill he has to climb in the primary, I’d say he’s in pretty good shape,” Chambliss added, referring to statements Gingrich made Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press” in which he referred to the House GOP plan to overhaul Medicare as “right-wing social engineering” to be avoided. Gingrich has since apologized to the plan’s author, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), following days of withering criticism from a host of conservatives, including activists, elected officials and prominent pundits.

The Medicare proposal would revamp the federal health insurance program for seniors and the disabled. Users would instead buy private insurance, and Medicare would help subsidize the cost by making payments to the chosen plan. The proposal would only affect those age 54 and younger; the current Medicare system would not change for those 55 and older.

Gingrich’s penchant for provocative commentary is partly why the former Speaker has been productive as a conservative thinker, Isakson said.

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