VOTE 2012

Newt Gingrich's surge in polls leaves some Republicans nervous

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There also was the book deal that led to a $300,000 fine from the House ethics committee and enough chaos to inspire his own lieutenants to plot Gingrich's overthrow. And who could forget Gingrich's illicit affair with a House aide — now his wife, Callista — while advocating for President Bill Clinton's impeachment after a sexual impropriety of his own?

Gingrich has surged in the polls over the past several weeks. (Photo: Associated Press)

Now a presidential candidate, Gingrich, at 68, claims he's matured. But his unpredictability remains a concern to some, and he's clearly aware of the political jitters his campaign's newfound viability gives to those who know him best.

He reached out last week to Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolinian who won a House seat in the 1994 election and became disillusioned enough four years later to huddle with Gingrich's leadership team and consider mutiny.

Gingrich called Graham and the two had an hourlong conversation.

"He certainly doesn't hold grudges, because the coup (meeting) was held in my office," said Graham, who has not endorsed anyone in his state's important early primary. He came away from the talk feeling better about the relationship, and the candidate.

"I think he has learned from those experiences, and the conversation I had with him was reassuring. The guy I'm talking to was a different guy than 1997," Graham said. "He mentioned that he thinks he's more settled. And I said, 'Good.'"

There's more to Gingrich's reassurance campaign.

On Wednesday, he summoned conservative leaders to a private, two-hour meeting at which he took blunt questions about his "discipline and structure," the $300,000 ethics fine, and a hard-to-forget television ad in which he sat shoulder to shoulder with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, herself a former House speaker as well as a liberal stalwart.

Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer, who attended the event, said Gingrich promised to continue to be honest about mistakes he's made in his personal life and sought to alleviate concerns in other areas.

It's a message Gingrich has been delivering repeatedly since launching his presidential campaign last spring. Only now, people are paying attention, given that polls show him leading the GOP field in Iowa and elsewhere.

On Capitol Hill, perhaps no one knows Gingrich better than House Speaker John Boehner, who lost his leadership role after the coup attempt.

But Boehner won't weigh in on the race, saying Wednesday, "Newt has been a longtime friend, but my focus is on what American people sent us here to do, which is focus on jobs."

Former Vice President Dan Quayle, who has endorsed Mitt Romney, answered "yes" when asked on NBC's "Today" show Thursday if Gingrich could beat Obama.

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