Newt Gingrich has shilly-shallied over a presidential bid for more than a year. In May, the former Republican House speaker said that his candidacy was a "great possibility." In June, he put the chances at "4-to-1 odds" against.
So when Mr. Gingrich told a Fox News program Sunday that he would "feel a responsibility to run" if his aides could rustle up $30 million in campaign pledges in October, the questions only sharpened: Is he serious about running for the Republican nomination or just drawing attention to his newest cause as the party's gadfly in chief?
His latest rumblings come a few days before the launch Thursday of Gingrich's American Solutions for Winning the Future, a nationwide series of workshops spotlighting his ideas on immigration, healthcare, and a raft of other issues.
Still, in interviews Sunday with Fox News and The Washington Times, he set a specific fundraising goal and timetable, evidence, some analysts say, of a deepening determination to run.
"I took this last announcement more seriously than all the rest," says Scott Reed, a GOP strategist who managed Robert Dole's presidential campaign in 1996. "I'm not prepared to predict he's going to run, but he's going to have a big impact on this race."
Gingrich's periodic threats to enter the race and his regular trips to early-primary states have certainly kept him in the news. Best known as the "Contract With America" author who led the historic GOP takeover of the House in 1994, Gingrich, now a prolific writer and public speaker, has not been shy about trying to shape Republican campaign strategy from the sidelines. At a July breakfast sponsored by The American Spectator, a conservative magazine, he tarred the Republican field as a "pathetic" bunch of "pygmies."
Elsewhere, he has pressed the GOP hopefuls to distance themselves from President Bush, declare that government is broken, and take up a message of "very bold, dramatic change."
He has dismissed the campaign of Sen. John McCain as a nonstarter and reportedly told GOP insiders in July that he would run if actor and former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, whose campaign launched three weeks ago, stumbled.
Gingrich's spokesman, Rick Tyler, told the Monitor this week that Mr. Thompson's lackluster start had raised the odds of a Gingrich candidacy.
"If Fred Thompson had come to be the consensus candidate, there would be no need for Newt to contemplate running," says Mr. Tyler. "Why would he run if conservatives had coalesced around Fred Thompson? The fact is they haven't."
In his interview on "Fox News Sunday," Gingrich said his decision to enter the race would hinge on his ability to drum up $30 million in campaign pledges in the first three weeks of October. He said his longtime adviser, Randy Evans, will outline his strategy at a press briefing Monday.
"I want the [financial] commitments first – I don't want to go out on personal ambition," Gingrich said in the Fox interview, adding that he could decide by late October. "If we ended up with that level of pledges, I don't see as a citizen how you can turn that down."
Still, $30 million is a high target for a single month. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani raised far less – about $17 million – in the entire second quarter of the year. No GOP candidate raised more.
"If he did do $30 million in a month, it would be earth-shattering," says Republican consultant Tony Fabrizio, who suspects the goal was set unrealistically high to prolong Gingrich's influence while offering cover for an escape. "It gives him an excuse to not get into the race."
Gingrich is fourth or fifth in national polls of Republican voters, behind Mr. Giuliani, Senator McCain, and Thompson but tied at times with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. If he declares, Gingrich would have to quickly assemble a campaign team and would face obvious headwinds, including a messy marital history and a reputation as a partisan.
"He's the type of candidate who in the general election would have a very hard time appealing to independent voters, much less Democrats," says Merle Black, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta and the author of "Divided America: The Ferocious Power Struggle in American Politics."
Mr. Black compared Gingrich with Barry Goldwater, the late Arizona senator who birthed the modern conservative movement but never won the presidency. "Goldwater didn't do anything to moderate his positions or extend his appeal to centrist voters," says Black. "Gingrich is kind of a modern version of that."
Gingrich himself has predicted a Democratic victory next year. Some analysts say his flirtation with the 2008 race is meant to influence party strategy while paving the way for a more likely candidacy in 2012, a year of presumably brighter GOP prospects.
"This nomination fight appears to be pretty wide open, and I think he recognizes that void and is trying to fill it – with ideas" if nothing else, says Mr. Reed, the GOP strategist. "Don't underestimate Newt Gingrich. Democrats did in 1994, and they got put out to pasture for 10 years."