Newt out of White House race

JOHN CARLIN

Washington

Newt Gingrich announced yesterday that he would not run for the US Presidency next year, news that will have been greeted with greater disappointment in the White House than anywhere else. For the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the darling of the Republican right, has been revealed by poll after poll to be the most unpopular politician in America.

That was the label President Bill Clinton wore a year ago. And it was because of the President's diminished appeal that Mr Gingrich's Republicans seized the Senate and the House of Representatives in the November 1994 congressional elections. Today the boot is on the other foot. The Democratic candidate in a congressional by-election due next month in California has sent a first-class ticket to Mr Gingrich so he can fly over and campaign for his Republican rival.

In a sneering news release, Jerry Estruth, the Democrat, said: "Since if Tom Campbell [the Republican candidate] is elected he'll be supporting Newt for Speaker, we're sure Newt would like to help Tom out."

Tarring Republican opponents with the Newt brush has become Democratic campaigners' favourite election tactic. On 7 November, Democrat, Paul Patton won the election for governor in Kentucky after portraying himself as the man who would defend the weak against Mr Gingrich's attacks on social welfare, against "Newt the serial programme killer".

In next year's presidential campaign, Mr Clinton will be playing the Gingrich card ("a vote for my opponent is a vote for Newt") for all it is worth. Martin Frost, a Texas congressman who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has advised election challengers to make their opponent's middle name Gingrich. "I hope Newt comes to my district," Mr Frost said. "And I hope Newt goes to every district in the country."

How is it that the standard bearer of the Republican revolution, undoubtedly Washington's Man of the Year, has become identified as his party's greatest electoral liability? Why is that a Washington Post poll a week ago showed 60 per cent "disapproved" of him? Mainly because people - and particularly women - find him to be an unattractive personality: too mean, too clownish, too shrill.

He is no Ronald Reagan; no Teflon politician. So when Mr Gingrich signs a $4m book deal with Rupert Murdoch, the bad odour lingers; when a magazine reports that he urged his wife to sign divorce papers as she lay in bed recovering from a cancer operation, people do not forget it; when the New York Daily News portrayed him in a cartoon as a cry-baby, the whole country laughed; when he blamed the hideous murder of a pregnant woman last week on the iniquities of the welfare system, television viewers nodded in agreement as they watched the woman's outraged cousin describing Mr Gingrich as a repellent political opportunist.

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