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Gingrich Briefs Top Democrats

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) came to Capitol Hill last week armed with recent polling data on a laundry list of pressing issues and showed them to an unlikely audience — two high-ranking Democrats.

Gingrich held separate meetings last Wednesday with House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.). He requested the meetings to talk about the findings of extensive survey research conducted by American Solutions for Winning the Future, a nonpartisan group Gingrich founded.

The same polling information — which Gingrich formally unveiled Tuesday at the National Press Club — also has been circulated to Republican leaders on the Hill, although no formal meetings have been set to discuss it.

A Gingrich spokesman said the former Speaker had commissioned a similar polling report during the 2004 presidential election and distributed it only to Republicans. But he said the GOP by-and-large ignored the data then and that was the reason Gingrich is seeking to provide both parties with the information now.

“Newt is in the process of presenting this polling data to both Republicans and Democrats,” Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler said. “His premise is that a red-versus-blue America is inherently destructive to any party’s ability to get anything done.”

The polling, which cost $428,000, consisted of six surveys addressing a total of 180 separate issues.

Schumer said he was pleased to get the briefing.

“Newt Gingrich is a great thinker who is trying to find a way to bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Emanuel declined to comment.

“It was great fun. They were both very receptive,” Tyler said. “These are two very smart politicians. When someone walks in and says this is what America thinks, they’re going to look at it.”

In an e-mail update to American Solutions supporters Monday, Gingrich noted his recent meetings with Schumer and Emanuel and his commitment to briefing members of both parties.

“Giving the information to both parties is part of our Red, White, and Blue strategy of having a dialogue with all Americans,” he wrote.

Gingrich has been disseminating his polling data in various ways recently and Republican leaders and their staff are aware of his efforts. Last weekend, he gave a satellite presentation to the House Republican chiefs of staff retreat during which he talked about the polling data.

“Newt’s a very cerebral guy with incredible ideas and likes to share those with as many people as is humanly possible,” said one GOP leadership aide. “His polling and solutions are inherently and almost exclusively Republican so it’s hard to see how they would benefit Democrats.”

Not surprisingly, the data shows that Democrats do very well on issues like energy, the environment and Social Security. But Tyler called the issue of illegal immigration the Democrats’ “Achilles’ heel” because they haven’t figured out how to solve it without angering and splitting their base.

Tyler said while most polling data is broken down on a partisan and demographic basis, Gingrich’s polling focuses on illustrating the larger, more inclusive groups that support or oppose a single issue.

Gingrich also has circulated the polling data to both Republican and Democratic 2008 presidential contenders.

Tyler said that if the GOP had stuck to an issues-based campaign in 2004, as Gingrich promoted, the contest between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) would not have been close.

But in the end it was close and personally nasty and, Tyler said, Bush wrongly assumed the result gave him political capital.

“The fact is he didn’t have any political capital — he had a group of people who hated John Kerry,” Tyler said.

Gingrich has described American Solutions as an organization “designed to rise above traditional gridlocked partisanship, to provide real, significant solutions to the most important issues facing our country.”

Gingrich toyed with the idea of running for president in 2008, but ultimately decided not to, in part so that he could devote more time to this organization.