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Gingrich lugs loads of personal, political baggage

By Nancy Benac

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Nov. 17 2011 4:36 p.m. MST

This is, after all, a man whose pique at a perceived slight by President Bill Clinton in 1995 earned him a caricature on the front page of the New York Daily News showing him as a diapered baby with the headline, "Cry Baby. Newt's Tantrum."

"His biggest hurdle is to avoid self-inflicted wounds," says GOP strategist Rich Galen, a former Gingrich aide. "There is a history of the angry Newt, and that hasn't served him terribly well over the past 20 years. So far, he's been far more disciplined than I or other people gave him credit for."

History itself may work against Gingrich. At 68, he's viewed by many as part of the GOP of the past and won't get many points anymore for the Republican revolution he engineered to take control of Congress in 1994. By 1998, he was facing leadership challenges and ethics questions and decided not to seek re-election.

Gingrich has gotten in hot water this campaign for outspoken and sometimes shifting views. Within days of announcing his campaign, Gingrich had irked conservatives by harshly criticizing Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to remake Medicare as "right-wing social engineering." Gingrich apologized but has since sent mixed signals on where he stands on the matter. He's also wavered on Libya, initially criticizing Obama for not intervening and later saying he would not have used American and European forces there.

He's also sent mixed signals on his view of the government's role in ensuring people have health insurance. And that will make it harder for him to confront Republican rival Mitt Romney on an issue where the GOP leader is vulnerable because of his work as Massachusetts governor to push through a requirement that people get health insurance.

Trying to exorcise another demon, Gingrich took it on himself last week to bring up a widely circulated 2008 public service announcement in which he sat on a couch with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and called for action to address climate change, an ad that has gotten Gingrich nothing but grief from conservatives. The candidate called the ad "the dumbest thing I've done in the last couple of years."

Gingrich also will have to convince voters he's serious about being president. His campaign almost went under last summer after many of his aides and advisers resigned en masse, complaining that he wasn't seriously campaigning and had taken off on a Greek cruise with his wife not long after announcing.

So far, Gingrich is giving himself good marks for handling the increased scrutiny of his candidacy "in an even-handed way," as he put it at a Politico forum in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday.

He knows what will happen if he doesn't.

"If I blow up and do something stupid," he says, "they'll be able to say, 'Gee, I wonder who the next candidate is.'"

AP Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

Nancy Benac can be followed at http://twitter.com/nbenac

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