Newt to launch exploratory presidential committee this week

Fun 2012 campaign fact — the only two Republicans semi-officially thinking about running are both from Georgia:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will launch a presidential ‘exploratory’ campaign this week, becoming the first big-name GOP candidate to make a formal step towards the White House.

The other candidate officially non-officially running is Herman Cain, who announced his exploratory committee launch before CPAC.  Cain has made a big splash thus far, both at CPAC and in Wisconsin, where he made an appearance at the Tea Party counterprotests in Madison to support Scott Walker. None of the other presumed Republican challengers joined Cain in that venue, including Newt, but Gingrich does have some trips scheduled soon that will impact the primaries, as ABC reported earlier:

ABC News has learned that Newt Gingrich will make the leap this week. Confidants close to the former House speaker say he will announce his intention to form a presidential exploratory committee before the end of the week.

Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler would only say that the former speaker will make an announcement by the end of the week on forming a presidential exploratory committee. But friends of Gingrich say he has already made up his mind. Gingrich’s travel schedule is already looking like that of a presidential candidate. He will be in Iowa on Mar. 7 and ABC News has learned he will in New Hampshire Mar. 17.

Gingrich seems serious about running this time.  He played footsie with the notion throughout 2007 but ultimately decided against jumping into the scrum, holding off the final decision until late in the year.  He took a lot of criticism for his hard-to-get routine at the time.  Instead of toying with supporters this time, Gingrich seems anxious to get out in front early.

Of course, this cycle isn’t 2007, either.  Talk of a primary challenge to Obama seems to have quieted of late, which means that the GOP won’t have to compete for attention.  Instead of rushing to get into debates, most of the presumptive candidates have downplayed their official and non-official campaigns.  For some whose national profiles need burnishing, like Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels, the effort is more public, but for those with more exposure like Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, the need for speed is nothing like the last presidential campaign.  At this rate, the two announced GOP presidential debates in the spring may only include the two Georgia natives, as everyone else may be waiting for mid-summer to test out the waters a little more quietly.

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