By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich told supporters on Wednesday he hopes to announce a run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination in May.
Gingrich held a conference call with 40-50 former staffers and people with whom he has done business to tell them he is leaning toward a White House bid and will need their support, a person knowledgeable of the call told Reuters.
"He was looking for serious input. He gave it serious time," the person said.
Gingrich, known for budget battles with President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, said last week he was exploring a run but was coy on the timing.
The Republican race to choose a challenger to President Barack Obama is off to a slow start. Many prominent Republicans are planning campaigns but have put off announcing them, largely to save money.
The source knowledgeable with Gingrich's call said the 67-year-old former speaker said he hopes to announce his campaign in May in Philadelphia at Independence Hall, the birthplace of the Constitution and a powerful symbol of America's democracy.
Another "testing-the-waters" event may be held in April in the Atlanta area.
Gingrich is also taking steps to try to ease concerns among the religious right about his personal life.
Gingrich is married to his third wife, Callista, with whom he had an affair in the mid-1990s while he was married to his second wife.
He told a Christian television network he had sought God's forgiveness over the affair.
"There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate," Gingrich told the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview that was posted online on Wednesday.
Gingrich has said recently that if the presidential campaign is about the future instead of the past he will have a chance of being part of the debate.
"I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness. Not God's understanding, but God's forgiveness. I do believe in a forgiving God. And I think most people, deep down in their hearts hope there's a forgiving God," Gingrich told the Christian Broadcasting Network's "The Brody File."
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll said Gingrich was viewed favorably by 35 percent of voters and unfavorably by 38 percent.
"I feel that I'm now 67, I'm a grandfather. I have two wonderful grandchildren. I have two wonderful daughters and two great sons-in-law. Callista and I have a great marriage. I think that I've learned an immense amount," he said.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)