Gingrich sees a wave of change

MANCHESTER -- Even Republicans are impressed with the reception of Democratic superstar Barack Obama.

Speaking Friday night in Manchester to a ballroom full of Republicans, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, "I do think every Republican ought to look at the reception Barack Obama got a week ago."

Gingrich, who like Obama, is weighing a presidential run in 2008, said, "the interest in him tells you something about Americans more than it tells you about him."

Visiting New Hampshire for the first time on Sunday, Obama, an Illinois senator, acknowledged he's become a symbol of the change Americans want in government.

Gingrich, echoing comments from state Republican Chairman Wayne Semprini before him, urged state Republicans to consider a new kind of campaign in 2007-2008.

Americans, he told about 100 people attending the Manchester Republican City Committee dinner-dance, are tired of negative attack ads. He said state Republicans should invite Democrats to their candidate forums, too.

Voters would be able to compare candidates side by side more frequently, and candidates would have a chance for more genuine dialogue, "for the purpose of discussing solutions for America," he said.

"If the Republican and Democratic parties in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina would agree to do a series of bipartisan events in 2007, we could create a year of solutions and dialogue," Gingrich said.

When speaking about Iraq, people should understand that "Iraq is a campaign in the real world," Gingrich said. "If this larger war didn't exist, I would say we should leave Iraq this weekend.

"When I look at Iraq, I see Iran. I see Afghanistan. I see Hamas. I see Hezbollah. What's the totality of the war we're dealing with? The answer is not to abandon Iraq."

Americans must maintain a strong presence in Iraq because "when our enemies think we are weak, it gets dangerous everywhere very fast," Gingrich said.

Gingrich is critical of the Iraq Study Group, comparing its findings -- and efforts to use them as an exit strategy from Iraq -- to World War II-era "efforts to appease Nazi Germany" according a posting this week on his Web site,

He opposes reaching out to Iran for help with Iraq. However, "if Bush's promised change of direction isolates Iraq as the only world danger and if he offers only more of the same in fighting that conflict, then Gingrich believes America might as well pull out its troops and quit," according to the same posting.

Gingrich helped Republicans sweep to power in Congress in 1994 with his "Contract with America" which called for a rolling back of federal programs and waste. Yet he proposes a social overhaul in Iraq along the lines of a hybrid New Deal/Marshall Plan to boost safety and stability, according to his Web site. Flood the region with goods and provide resources to create jobs and infrastructure, and Iraqis will be standing on their own feet, he believes.

Potential GOP rivals Rudy Giuliani, Sens. John McCain and Sam Brownback already have formed presidential exploratory committees and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who leaves office Jan. 4., is widely expected to announce his candidacy. Gingrich, meanwhile, has said he won't decide whether to run until September. But he's following the prospective candidate playbook, speaking out on Iraq, courting New Hampshire -- home of the nation's first presidential primary contest -- and making appearances on national news programs. He last visited New Hampshire on Nov. 28.