"Twelve years out of office, (wife) Callista, two grandchildren, I'm 68," Gingrich answers. "And I have a different job. I was the leader of the conservative Republicans fighting with a liberal Democratic president. Now I seek to be the leader of the American people -- all of the American people. That's a different job."
Later, at a private dinner with supporters -- everything is off the record -- Gingrich is far warmer than he has seemed in years past, and far more relaxed. He is confident about his campaign but remembers very well when he was given up for dead just a few months ago. The supporters -- state and local party officials and boosters -- are grateful Gingrich has come to a small town that's off the beaten path. They've been trying to bring Mitt Romney here with no success.
Before Gingrich, three Republican candidates -- Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain -- enjoyed time at the front of the pack. They all fell back for basically the same reason: voter concerns that they lacked the experience or knowledge to be president. Gingrich won't have that problem.
But he can make his own problems. There are intense days of campaigning ahead, and if the old Gingrich should re-emerge -- combative, overconfident, undisciplined -- it could blow away much of the good will Gingrich has built over the last year. Republican voters like the Gingrich they've seen so far in the campaign. But they want to make sure it's really him.