Gingrich tests political waters in New Hampshire

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 3:47 PM
Gingrich tests political waters in New Hampshire

By Lauren Keiper

SALEM, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited the key primary voting state of New Hampshire on Thursday to test the political waters, saying if he finds enough support, he would "almost certainly run" for president in 2012.

The Republican remained mum on any specific plans to form a campaign exploratory committee during his appearances at a breakfast in Nashua and a luncheon in Salem, both in the southern part of the state that tentatively will hold its influential party primary on February 14, 2012.

Gingrich has been making the rounds of Iowa and South Carolina along with New Hampshire, the earliest states to hold party contests to select presidential nominees.

The 67-year-old Gingrich said he was spending time in New Hampshire to gauge his level of support.

"If we find enough volunteer support and enough financial support, we'll almost certainly run," he told reporters at a luncheon of the Boys & Girls Club in Salem.

"We're in the process of assessing that now," he said, adding: "So far in New Hampshire, it's been a good day."

During his appearance at the annual Wild Irish breakfast meeting in Nashua, where local and state personalities and politicians poke one another with jokes and jabs, he joked about having not yet decided whether to seek the party nomination to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama.

"I am contemplating the possibility of thinking about under some circumstances exploring the potential," he said.

A Gingrich spokesman has said the next indication of his intentions would likely come in May.

Gingrich said the earthquake and tsunami in Japan should prompt the United States to strengthen its homeland security measures and look at how the nation might respond to a similar disaster.

"I don't think we're prepared," he said.

Gingrich said the top priorities include cutting the unemployment rate to 4 percent. The rate now stands at 8.9 percent.

Another priority, he said, is bringing the national average cost of gasoline down to $2 a gallon. The government has said drivers should expect to pay an average of $3.71 a gallon at the pump this summer.

Asked about Gingrich's chances in the Republican presidential primary, some attendees at the Nashua breakfast said they saw him as a front-runner along with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Others said it was too soon to tell.

"It's way too early. I don't see a front-runner," said Lou Arcidy, an independent voter from Bedford, New Hampshire.

Voting in the New Hampshire primary is open to all registered Republicans as well as independents, who make up a large part of the state's registered voters.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Bohan)