Gingrich: Gov. Bush could be president

By Times Staff
Published May 28, 2006

His brother's approval ratings are in the cellar, and that whole dynasty thing doesn't help. But don't underestimate Jeb Bush's prospects as a future presidential contender, says former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Probably '08 is a little bit tricky, but " '12 or '16 isn't. And he's a young enough guy (53) that he has a great future," Gingrich said on the Political Connections television show airing today on Bay News 9. "I just think his natural, personal ability is so great that people are going to realize he is not his father and he's not his brother. He's a very unique, charismatic leader with extraordinary capabilities. ... Jeb Bush may well be the most innovative (governor) in the entire country."

Gingrich taped the interview after headlining a recent fundraiser for state Rep. Gus Bilirakis' campaign to succeed his father in Congress. He addressed everything from his fears that Republican loyalists won't turn out heavily in November to congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo case (reasonable idea, clumsily executed) to Florida being a competitive but Republican-leaning state.

"A Republican Party that comes down and thinks, 'I can yell Republican, Republican, Republican, and I'll win,' I think misunderstands the underlying character of the state. That's why for example you have in Bill Nelson such a formidable opponent, because he's a guy who figured out that there is a niche where Democrats can win down here," said Gingrich, who did nothing to discourage speculation about him running for president in 2008.

Which potential Democratic presidential candidate most worries him? "Either (former Virginia) Gov. Mark Warner or (Indiana) Sen. Evan Bayh have a lot to offer the Democratic Party because they're more moderate," he said, predicting either would have a very tough time beating Hillary Clinton for the nomination.

Gingrich said Sen. Clinton will have a tough time winning over voters in much of the country, including Florida, but Republicans are foolish to underestimate her: "She's very smart; she works very hard. Anyone who thinks we're going to beat her easily is just wrong. We can beat her if we have better ideas and better solutions, and people have a choice between a left-wing view of the world and a solution-oriented view of the world. We're not going to beat her just with an anti-Hillary campaign."

Gingrich likewise fretted the Republican loyalists might stay away from the polls in November out of disenchantment with Republican leaders in Washington.

The interview airs at 11 a.m. on Bay News 9 and starting Monday can be seen at no cost on Channel 340 (Tampa Bay on Demand.).

CRIST'S TV SPOT: The leafy Old Northeast neighborhood in St. Petersburg gets prominent play in the first TV ad of the campaign season, courtesy of Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist. The ad, which starts airing today, features Crist in a polo shirt, touting his commitment to consumers amid heartwarming music and a busy neighborhood.

"What if Florida's neighborhoods could talk? They would say they're safer, and life's improving," the attorney general from St. Petersburg says. "I'm working hard to make Florida communities better, like here where I grew up. Working with Gov. Bush, protecting our kids, making it easier for parents to track those sexual predators. Ensuring prisoners are kept off our streets and serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Making sure you can find prescription drugs at the lowest prices and that they are safe. Protecting consumers and seniors against fraud. I'm Charlie Crist, and I love Florida."

The Crist campaign won't release details, but our spies tell us he bought $1.4-million worth of ads to run for four weeks in the Tampa Bay area, Orlando, Fort Myers and Jacksonville and for one week in West Palm Beach.

TAMPA BAY BATTLE: The front-runners for governor, Republican Crist and Democrat Jim Davis, are from the Tampa Bay area, Florida's biggest and most competitive media market. So how do they stack up among Tampa Bay area voters?

Crist wins handily - 46 percent to 35 percent - according to a Bay News 9 Viewers Poll conducted May 16-18. Among Republicans, Crist led Tom Gallagher 51 percent to 31 percent. Among Democrats, Davis led Rod Smith 49 percent to 16 percent.

Political/Media Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., interviewed 400 voters (in Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties) by telephone. All indicated that they would vote in the November 2006 general election. The margin of error is 5 percentage points.

Adam C. Smith contributed to this week's Buzz. For more political news check out http://www.sptimes.com/blogs/buzz.