Gingrich is a lot of things to different people. He also comes with baggage that will affect his electability. But there's no questioning his intellect.
He's a wonk. He's a thinker. He's an idea person who does his research before he speaks.
That clearly sets him apart from Republicans like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, who are basking in much of the pre-election, GOP glow.
While Trump and Palin are hardly lightweights, much of their appeal stems from their status as celebrities. They are liked by some (and conversely, disliked by others) because of their personas, not their position papers.
Gingrich, the former House speaker, may be somewhat of a celebrity himself, given his frequent appearances in the media and his speaking engagements around the country. But he didn't reach this point in his life because he's got a popular TV show or because he was surprise selection as presidential running mate. He got here because of a lot of hard work as a conservative congressman from Georgia who rose through the political ranks and became one of the field generals during the Republican revolution. Thus he brings heft and history to the GOP's presidential field for the 2012 election.
With Gingrich as a candidate, Republicans are guaranteed to have a serious debate on critical issues.
That said, Gingrich does have negatives.
Some Republicans want a fresh face leading the party, such as Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota or even Georgia's Herman Cain, They will see Newt as a has-been. Some members of the GOP establishment who like Mitt Romney, who ran four years ago, don't think he can win enough votes outside the South. Still others in both parties question his personal judgment in his handling of his two divorces, which opens up the character issue.
So is he a flawed candidate? Yes. But is there a perfect Republican candidate out there right now to challenge President Obama? Not that we can see.
Gingrich has been living in Virginia since 1998, which is when he left public office. But he still hasn't forgotten his Georgia roots. One of his spokesmen said Gingrich plans to open a "major campaign headquarters" in Atlanta.
At 67, Gingrich is older and perhaps wiser than the days when he was a GOP firebrand. But his intellectual firepower still packs a punch.
He may not win the GOP nomination. He should, however, help the Republican Party frame the national debate in the 2012 presidential race. That's good for the GOP - and, ultimately, good for American voters who will select a leader.