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Newt Gingrich Arrives In N.H., In Search Of Elephants04:32
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Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a Wild Irish Breakfast in Nashua, N.H., Thursday. (AP)
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a Wild Irish Breakfast in Nashua, N.H., Thursday. (AP)

The snow was deep and the temperature low, but another sign of the long winter in New Hampshire has been a shortage of candidates declaring their runs for president. With no major Republicans yet in the field, Thursday's arrival of Newt Gingrich made St. Patrick's Day seem greener.

Cold nights, warm days. The sap is running in New Hampshire. And so too some Republicans, perhaps. Outside the Boys and Girls Club of Salem Thursday, just down the road from a playground called The Field of Dreams, stepped Newt Gingrich, to be greeted by the Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

"How are you doing? Welcome again.We're going to chase each other around all day," Lynch said to Gingrich.

"I'm going to do all I can for your tourism industry, OK," Gingrich responded.

"It's fair to saw I'm back now looking for an elephant and we'll see if I find enough elephants to justify a race."

Newt Gingrich

Into the electoral sugar shack that delights in holding America's first presidential primary, "Mister Speakah" as many still call him, was here on an "exploratory" mission.

"I came here years ago with Congressman Bill Zeliff looking for a moose. And it's fair to saw I'm back now looking for an elephant and we'll see if I find enough elephants to justify a race," Gingrich said.

Gingrich's Possible Presidential Run

Oh, they want him all right. Whether or not they'll vote for him is another matter. But this is New Hampshire, as Ruth Griffin of Portsmouth explains.

"We're in New Hampshire and they're all welcome," she said. "When they're exploring — whether it's Newt Gingrich or anybody — they're stimulating the people to think how wonderful we are here."

A recent University of New Hampshire poll shows that about 6 percent of likely voters would vote for Gingrich in the primary. Gingrich said that didn't faze him so far in advance.

"I think if we find enough volunteer support and enough financial support we'll almost certainly run. We're in the process of assessing that right now," he said.

With that, the former Speaker, of Scot-Irish descent and recently converted to Catholicism, walked into a hall of 350 people celebrating St. Patrick's Day and wearing enough green to drive the serpents out of Ireland.

It's for no small reason that bagpipes once led soldiers out of trenches, and Gingrich is already speaking with a martial air of a man on the march.

Gingrich Makes His Case

"When people have a chance to see what I stand for, to see what I did as speaker, to look at balancing the budget for four straight years — reforming welfare as the biggest entitlement reform of our lifetime — I'm pretty confident I'll be competitive," Gingrich said.

He's likely to announce in May, said an aide, as Gingrich tucked into a slab of corned beef at the St. Patrick's luncheon.

"You'd encourage him to continue exploring?" I asked one New Hampshire resident.

"Yes, I would," said Ed Newman, who used to run the local Ford dealership.

"I think he's pretty honest. He says what he thinks. That's the main thing," Newman said. "I don't want to listen to any more bull. And we gotta change what we have in Washington now."

"Please join me in welcoming the following officials at this event. Gov. John Lynch..."

The moderator went on to introduce more than 100 people, all the way down to the local budget committee members, retired police chiefs and even the tax collector.

But not Newt Gingrich. After all, it's New Hampshire, where voters expect to be waited on. The governor did give him a brief mention later.

"All these guys that want to be president are going to come by," said former state Rep. Richard Cooney, who was wearing a Guinness hat.

"Cause one of them is going to be president, probably."

In a state where the most popular road sign says, "Frost Heaves," one of Gingrich's bumps may be his personal life. Marital infidelities characterized his first two marriages, as he acknowledged last week to the Christian Broadcasting Network, while also warning about the threat to our "Judeo-Christian society."

Thursday Gingrich said the bad behavior was past history.

"I think the American people are very fair," he said. "And I trust the American people to measure me as the person I am today, not stories about 15, 20 or 25 years ago, so we'll see. Thank you all very much."

And with that, Gingrich was off in search of elephants.

This program aired on March 18, 2011.

David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.

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