"SPEAKER Newt Gingrich's post-election dominance of the...

January 19, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

"SPEAKER Newt Gingrich's post-election dominance of the national agenda has led admirers to raise the possibility that the Georgia Republican may seek the presidency in 1996. He has called at least one political ally to suggest that he resist climbing aboard anyone else's presidential bandwagon. . . ." -- News Item.

Gingrich has been speaker of the House for a couple of weeks and is already bored? Thinking about running for president?

"It doesn't make any sense at all," says former Sen. Warren Rudman. "With Republicans in control of the House for the first time in 40 years, he's not going to suddenly say, 'Okay, fellows, I'm going to have my assistant run the House; I'm off to New Hampshire.' " Rudman's absolutely right! It doesn't make sense! It could never happen!

But it has!

In 1910, Democrats took over the House and elected Champ Clark of Missouri speaker. He was the first Democratic speaker in 18 years, and, Gingrich-like, had been the leader in the fight against the other party's leaders and their long-time control of the House.

Clark became speaker in April 1911. In April 1912 he ran against -- and lost to -- Gov. Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey in the Wisconsin presidential primary. The two dueled on, with Clark winning in five states and Wilson in five.

At the Democratic convention in Baltimore, Clark led Wilson and a few also-rans on the first nine ballots. On the 10th ballot, Clark finally got a majority, setting off an hour-long celebration on the floor. But in those days it took two-thirds of the delegates to be nominated. Clark was short of that, and never made it. Wilson hung in there and was nominated on the 46th ballot, thanks to, ahem, the Sunpapers.

The Sunpapers had campaigned for the convention to be held in Baltimore, and, according to Clark, he and other party leaders only agreed to come here after being assured that The Sun and The Evening Sun would remain neutral in the presidential contest. The papers were quite progressive, and Wilson was the more progressive of the two candidates, and Clark knew whom the Sunpapers preferred.

The papers did not openly endorse Wilson until late in the convention, but they supported him obviously, if indirectly, by campaigning for a progressive ticket and platform.

They began this campaign in earnest a month before the opening proceedings, mailing all Democratic delegates copies of the papers every day, then bombarding them with edition after edition -- including extras -- in Baltimore. A bitter Clark said we betrayed him, and he never forgave us.

I can see Gingrich running for president. Suppose his "contract" gets through the House but is watered down in the Senate, or gets through Congress but is vetoed by the president. Gingrich would then have a perfect presidential campaign issue that he -- and only he -- could fully exploit.

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