WASHINGTON -- Newt Gingrich is telling Republican insiders that his decision in September whether to run for president in 2008 depends on the progress of Fred Thompson's imminent candidacy.
If Thompson runs a vigorous and effective campaign, Gingrich says privately, he probably will not get in the race himself. If Thompson proves a dud, however, the former House speaker will seriously consider making a run. That implies that the others in the field look to Gingrich like losers in the general election.
A footnote: Gingrich has weighed in more heavily on the immigration issue than any of the major Republican presidential hopefuls. He has bombarded Republican Senate offices with material attacking the immigration bill backed by President Bush, even sending proposed talking points to senators about to meet with the president.
TAXES AND THOMPSON
Dropping into what will be the key state of South Carolina for his prospective presidential campaign, Fred Thompson was ambushed Wednesday by advocates of the "Fair Tax" plan to repeal the federal income tax and replace it with a national sales tax.
The former senator addressed a Republican state fund-raising luncheon in the state capital of Columbia. He appeared surprised to see more people wearing "Fair Tax" stickers than "Thompson for President" badges. He did not seem prepared to answer questions about the sweeping tax reform.
South Carolina on Feb. 2 will be the second Republican presidential primary after New Hampshire (on Jan. 22), and polls show that its GOP voters are inclined to fellow Southerner Thompson. He would need a win there after a possible win in New Hampshire by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
HILLARY MOVING RIGHT?
Sen. Hillary Clinton recently conferred with conservative health care analyst Regina Herzlinger, who advocates universal health insurance provided by the private sector and who has sharply criticized the 1994 "Hillarycare" as Mrs. Clinton's "bid for a centrally controlled system."
Herzlinger, a Harvard Business School professor, was one of several health care experts heard by Clinton during a two-hour "listening" conference call. "I was thrilled that she was sympathetic and interested in what I said," Herzlinger told me.
Although Clinton currently is sponsoring a massive expansion of SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program), several conservatives speculate that she as president might take the same path to the right on health care that President Clinton did on public welfare.
Billionaire financier Stephen Schwarzman was listed as one of the hosts of a 40th birthday party for Democratic Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island Thursday night at the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan. An individual ticket cost $1,000, with $5,000 required to be a VIP.
Schwarzman, co-founder and CEO of the Blackstone Group, made newspaper front pages when it was reported he would earn $7.5 billion from the public offering of his private-equity firm. Other big money Democrats listed on the invitation included David Boies, Norman Hsu, Felix Rohatyn, Bernard Schwartz, Todd Slotkin and Kenneth I. Starr. The principal host was the congressman's father, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
The location of the party could be found only by phoning a Washington telephone number to R.S.V.P.
John N. Kennedy, Louisiana's conservative Democratic state treasurer, is expected to change parties and run against Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu as a Republican at the urging of White House aide Karl Rove, despite harassment from the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
Kennedy long has considered changing parties, but wanted to wait until the current state legislative session ended. His switch was discussed on Mother's Day in a private lunch attended by Kennedy, Rove and David Vitter, Louisiana's Republican senator. When Vitter leaked Kennedy's intentions, the legislature began machinations to obstruct operations of the state treasurer's office.
A strong fiscal conservative, Kennedy is fighting maneuvers intended to chew up a state budget surplus, as a Republican, Rep. Bobby Jindal, is expected to be elected governor of Louisiana this year.