Gingrich surge unnerves some Republican lawmakers

By Laurie Kellman

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 8 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

WASHINGTON — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's stunning surge toward the top of the Republican presidential field has unnerved some Republicans in Congress who remember too well the tumult of nearly two decades ago.

"I'd rather have steady," said Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, who just this week made it known that he was backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney instead of the resurgent Gingrich, the man who led the 1994 "revolution" in which LaTourette was first elected.

Personally, LaTourette said, he has a "hangover" from the days of Gingrich's speakership, when "everything always seemed to be on fire."

In interviews this week, more than a dozen Republican members of the House and Senate wouldn't say — when given repeated chances — that they are confident that Gingrich has the discipline and stamina to outlast Romney and, down the road, face President Barack Obama in a grueling general election.

Gingrich has had trouble marshaling support from Congress' mass of political insiders. The 1994 "revolutionaries" who turned Democrats out of power for the first time in 40 years as well as more senior lawmakers waver on the question of whether Gingrich would be good for the GOP and the country given his rocky past.

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who credited Gingrich with helping push through a transformative farm bill, is among those unsure whether Gingrich-as-nominee would be helpful.

"It depends on what he does," said Roberts, who has not committed to a candidate for the party's nomination.

For his part, Gingrich told CNN late Wednesday: "I wish everybody had loved me. But I'd rather be effective representing the American people than be popular inside Washington."

"My job was to drive through change on a scale that Washington wasn't comfortable with, and you know, if you're a genuine outsider, forcing change, you're going to leave some bruised feelings," he added. "I don't apologize for that. I think I probably learned some more. I think I'll probably be more effective this time."

Gingrich's Capitol Hill days were volatile to say the least.

He was at the helm during two government shutdowns. He had a snit over a back-seat assignment on Air Force One and displayed a management style that his allies said shifted wildly and eroded morale among his backers.

There also was the book deal that led to a $300,000 fine from the House ethics committee and enough chaos to inspire his own lieutenants to plot Gingrich's overthrow. And who could forget Gingrich's illicit affair with a House aide — now his wife, Callista — while advocating for President Bill Clinton's impeachment after a sexual impropriety of his own?

Now a presidential candidate, Gingrich, at 68, claims he's matured. But his unpredictability remains a concern to some, and he's clearly aware of the political jitters his campaign's newfound viability gives to those who know him best.

He reached out last week to Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolinian who won a House seat in the 1994 election and became disillusioned enough four years later to huddle with Gingrich's leadership team and consider mutiny.

Gingrich called Graham and the two had an hourlong conversation.

"He certainly doesn't hold grudges, because the coup (meeting) was held in my office," said Graham, who has not endorsed anyone in his state's important early primary. He came away from the talk feeling better about the relationship, and the candidate.

"I think he has learned from those experiences, and the conversation I had with him was reassuring. The guy I'm talking to was a different guy than 1997," Graham said. "He mentioned that he thinks he's more settled. And I said, 'Good.'"

There's more to Gingrich's reassurance campaign.

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