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Newt Gingrich

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NOTE: Newt Gingrich formally ended his presidential campaign on May 2.

Newt Gingrich entered the 2012 Republican presidential race in May and was the first GOP candidate to formally launch his campaign.“I believe we can return America to hope and opportunity,” Gingrich said. “We’ve done it before, we can do it again.”

(READ: Newt Gingrich: The GOP’s eccentric big thinker, bomb thrower )

Despite a decade-long exile from public office, Gingrich remains one of the Republican Party’s most visible and prolific idea men and arguably the most influential former congressman in history. And he plans to be even more powerful as he launched his 2012 presidential bid in May 2011.

Gingrich transformed himself and his party from back-benchers in the 1980s to the dominant force in American politics in the 1990s. And he remained as bombastic and controversial as ever even as he refocused his attention from the “corrupt left-wing machine,” a longtime favorite target, to the demise of his own party’s fortunes in the mid-2000s, a fall from grace that Gingrich said was largely the fault of Republicans themselves.

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(Jessica Rinaldi / AP)

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