On the minus side: Gingrich has had a messy personal life, including an extramarital affair with the woman who is now his wife while he was married to his second wife. And that was all going on while he led the charge against President Clinton for his infidelity with intern Monica Lewinsky. Gingrich also faced ethics charges as speaker, most of which were dropped. But on one charge, related to the use of a tax-exempt college course for political purposes, he was reprimanded by the House and fined $300,000. After a sub-par performance by Republicans in the 1998 midterms, Gingrich was forced out of the speakership by a rebellion in his own GOP ranks.
But Gingrich’s biggest liability may be that he is polarizing. Because of his well-established reputation as a fiery conservative, it’s not clear that he can capture enough of the center to win a general election. Larry Sabato, a politics-watcher at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, places Gingrich at the top off the second tier of prospective GOP candidates, calling him “unlikely to win in November.”
But by starting out discounted, Gingrich is poised to beat expectations. And by jumping in first among the serious contenders – former Godfather pizza CEO Herman Cain already launched an exploratory committee – Gingrich is offering himself up to media scrutiny, certainly in the hope that he can reinvent his image.