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Modern road to White House 'verges on insane,' says Gingrich

  • Story Highlights
  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says campaign too long, too expensive
  • New campaign factors have affected Obama, Dean, Gingrich says
  • For most voters the race "begins after Christmas, no matter what," he says
  • Leader of 1994 GOP victory says he'll decide on '08 presidential run in October
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Potential presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich on Tuesday blasted the modern-day road to the White House as too long, too expensive and verging on "insane."

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Ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich says the presidential campaign structure is "stunningly dangerous."

The former House speaker from Georgia said he will decide whether to enter the GOP presidential field in October. But in a wide-ranging speech at the National Press Club in Washington, he ridiculed campaign consultants and spin doctors who he said are extending the 2008 campaign. He said presidential debates have become "almost unendurable."

"These aren't debates," the former Georgia congressman said. "This is a cross between [TV shows] 'The Bachelor,' 'American Idol' and 'Who's Smarter than a Fifth-Grader.'"

"What's the job of the candidate in this world?" asked Gingrich. "The job of the candidate is to raise the money to hire the consultants to do the focus groups to figure out the 30-second answers to be memorized by the candidate. This is stunningly dangerous." Video Watch why Gingrich is "deeply worried" »

Gingrich said the need to raise tens of millions of dollars has driven campaigns to begin cranking up much earlier than ever. Meanwhile, he said, advisers are telling candidates to begin campaigning "as soon as possible -- I need a check."

"Go look at all the analysis," said Gingrich. "Why are people starting early? Because you can't build the organization. What are you building the organization for? So you can raise the money."

But for most voters, he said, the race "begins after Christmas, no matter what the news media has to cover." He cited the example of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who was the Democratic front-runner until the first votes of the 2004 campaign were cast.

"Normal, rational Iowans who had rigorously avoided politics for the entire previous year looked up and said, 'He's weird.' And they looked back down, and Howard Dean disintegrated," Gingrich said.

At the same time, he said, any candidate who dares to change position on an issue during a two-year campaign risks being labeled a "flip-flopper" -- an epithet used to undercut 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry and one being waved at current Republican hopeful Mitt Romney.

"You begin to trap people," Gingrich said. "As the campaigns get longer, you're asking a person who's going to be sworn in in January of 2009 to tell you what they'll do in January of 2007, when they haven't got a clue -- because they don't know what the world will be like, and you're suggesting they won't learn anything through the two years of campaigning."

"For the most powerful nation on Earth to have an election in which Swift Boat veterans versus National Guard papers becomes a major theme verges on insane," said Gingrich, referring to 2004 campaign controversies that targeted Kerry and President Bush. "I mean, it's just -- and to watch those debates, I found painful -- for both people. They're both smarter than the debates."

He blamed the pressures of sound-bite campaigning for the recent controversy over Sen. Barack Obama's declaration that he would dispatch U.S. troops to Pakistan to attack leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network if Pakistani authorities fail to get them.

Gingrich said the Illinois Democrat, one of his party's leading presidential candidates, "said a very insightful thing in a very dangerous way." But the response, he said, "was to attack Senator Obama, not to explore the underlying kernel of what he said."

Gingrich's answer to the problems would be to get rid of limits on campaign financing, which he said have made the problems worse by requiring more individual donations to meet the same goals, and to stage a series of "dialogues" among the major-party candidates -- once a week, for 90 minutes, for nine weeks before the elections.

Candidates would pick the topics, and their answers would be uninterrupted "except for fairness on time," he said.

"After nine 90-minute conversations in their living rooms, the American people would have a remarkable sense of the two personalities and which person had the right ideas, the right character, the right capacity to be a leader," he said.

Gingrich, who has long billed himself as a visionary, led the Republicans who captured both houses of Congress in 1994 elections. National polls in July ranked him fifth among current GOP contenders, with average support of 7 percent, according to a CNN poll released Monday.

Gingrich stepped down as House speaker in 1998, after Republicans lost seats amid the drive to impeach then-President Bill Clinton over allegations that he lied under oath about a sexual relationship with a White House intern.

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In March, Gingrich acknowledged he was having an affair of his own around the same time. He insisted he was not a hypocrite because Clinton was not impeached for the affair -- but for lying about it.

The Senate acquitted Clinton the following year, and his wife, former first lady-turned-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, is among the current Democratic front-runners. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Martina Stewart contributed to this report.

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