Will it be Newt after all?

In the end, can Newt actually win this? Yeah, maybe so, in this bizarro Republican contest.

It’s his turn at the top, but that has been a slippery place to be in the past six months. Michelle Bachmann rose and fell. Rick Perry had a second or two in the lead before he plummeted. Herman Cain was at the forefront for a few days.

Then, Mitt Romney was, once again, deemed inevitable. Now, maybe not, maybe not at all, as the Republican Party picks its nominee to take on President Obama.

Newt Gingrich has been written off more times than a business lunch, but he pops up again, cocky, combative and capable of getting tons of free media. His big win in the South Carolina primary was based on touting conservative views, bashing the media and dominating the debates.

While Romney has the money, the organization and the pure personal life, he is awkward on stage, has handled the questions about his income and taxes horribly — and he is a Mormon. To a lot of the Christian conservatives who dominate much of the GOP selection process, that is the gravest sin.

Rick Santorum (be careful when you Google him) won, or at least tied Romney, at the Iowa caucus, although the media proclaimed Romney the winner for two weeks while votes were still being counted and collected.

Mitt won the New Hampshire primary, as was expected, and for a time he was 2-0 and leading in South Carolina. But that is so last Wednesday.

Santorum was a distant third in South Carolina, but he’s hoping Gingrich self-destructs and he is the most viable conservative standing.

Ron Paul, the aged, cranky Texas libertarian, has a small but dedicated following. He has said he doesn’t expect to be the nominee, then changed his tune and said, sure, I can win. But probably not.

If Newt can somehow get Santorum to join him, to earn those conservative followers, perhaps he does somehow earn the GOP nomination. My head still says Mitt is still the man most likely, but I think the GOP heart and gut says Newt is their true love, despite his past failings.

If this battle continues long enough, perhaps South Dakota’s primary on June 5 will become a factor. Maybe the circus will come to town once again, as it did for the Democrats in 2008.

And maybe, just maybe, for the first time since 1952, the Republican convention will mean something other than a coronation. Perhaps another candidate will emerge and the fabled “brokered convention” will return from the dim days of long-past history. Did someone mention Jeb Bush?

President Newt?

Newt Gingrich has been a lot of things: a college professor, a backbencher in the U.S. House, an influential speaker of the House, a former congressman, a well-paid speaker and author.

Now, he’s a presidential candidate and one of the leaders of the Republican pack vying for the chance to run against President Obama in 2012. Newt was not supposed to be here at this point; most of the insiders and observers said Gingrich was dead in the water last summer when many of his staffers abandoned him to work for Texas Gov, Rick Perry and his campaign coffers appeared empty.

But Gingrich refused to accept the diagnosis that he was a walking political dead man and continued to show up for the seemingly endless GOP debates while campaigning, speaking to the media and denouncing reports of his political demise.

Now, after other Republican contenders have popped to the top and then faded, Gingrich has survived and surfaced near the front as the primaries loom ahead.

All this despite three wives, admissions of infidelity, questionable book deals, reports of million-dollar paychecks from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and a checkered career in Congress that ended with him leaving Washington, D.C., after being outfoxed by another white-haired Southern rascal, Bill Clinton.

Now, interestingly enough, Bill Clinton has kind words for his former foe.

Newt has risen this year with strong performances at the debates and with Republicans recalling him as a powerful figure and advocate for their causes and beliefs. It also helps that the frontrunner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, is a Mormon who is also perceived as a, gasp, moderate. That’s a pair of strikes for many GOP voters.

Speaking of which, it is unusual with two Mormons in the running for the GOP nomination — Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman — Gingrich is the one with multiple wives. Will that hurt him eventually?

Can Newt survive? Does he have a real chance to win the GOP nomination? Would you vote for him in 2012? And what kind of president would Newt be if he does win?

Thune: Not yet sold on Perry, and only half-a-billion short of jumping in the race

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., was nice enough to stop by our office yesterday after he visited Dakotafest. Publisher Korrie Wenzel and I had a 25-minute conversation with him, parts of which we’ll publish soon in Q&A form.

Here’s one of the more interesting parts of the conversation, politically speaking.

Q. What do you think of Rick Perry, who seems to be the Republican candidate of the moment?
A. Uh, yeah, you know, he is (the candidate of the moment), and I think he’s obviously going to have a significant amount of support going in and I think he’ll be able to raise some money because Texas is a big foundation for that. I think he’ll be taken seriously. I think he’ll have support with the tea party. He’ll have that outside Washington, populist rhetoric which will be really popular, because people hate Washington, with good reason. But, you know, the thing he’ll have to overcome is he’ll be in the wake of a previous Texas governor and there’s still, I think, perhaps a little fatigue from that. So that will be perhaps a challenge for him, but I think he’s got a lot of potential, but like anybody else, though, you have to see how that wears over time. I think anybody who enters that arena, it’s an entirely different level of scrutiny. Everything that you say is scrutinized many times over, so how you withstand that is going to be — we’ll see how he does with that.
Q. What are the chances you’ll still get in the race? Zero, or better than that?
A. I think it’s too late. I still haven’t figured out how you overcome the challenge of raising money.  We’ve sat down and thought about what it would take to get through Iowa and New Hampsire and South Carolina, and we had a number in mind, and we could get about a third of the way there. So I just don’t know how you make that thing work. You look at a guy like Pawlenty, and that’s basically why he had to shut his campaign down. He just didn’t have the resources to continue. In this day and age, it is just a very formidable obstacle to people who don’t have a big state like Texas that you can draw on.
I say this facetiously, but it’s true. I could raise the first $1.5 million or $2 million in South Dakota. It’s the next half-a-billion that gets a little hard.
Q. If there’s a vice presidential offer for you, would you be interested in that?
A. I don’t think you ever rule anything out. That’s not something I’m campaigning for and not something I’m aspiring to do. I have plenty of work to do in the Senate, and I can’t imagine why it would ever make sense for anybody who becomes the nominee, but I’m certainly not going to close any doors.
Q. Did it make much sense to have a governor from Alaska as a running mate?
A. (Laughter) No comment.