Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich formally entered the 2012 Republican presidential race today, announcing his intentions in a web video.

“I believe we can return America to hope and opportunity,” Gingrich said. “We’ve done it before, we can do it again.”

Gingrich is scheduled to appear on Fox News Channel’s “Sean Hannity Show” this evening, his first public appearance as an official candidate. He is also set to sit down for an extended interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this Sunday.

Gingrich is the first major 2012 candidate to enter the race. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty have both formed presidential exploratory committees and are expected to formalize their bids soon.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is moving quickly toward the race while Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin remain on the sidelines — for now.

For Gingrich, his presidential candidacy is the realization of a long time ambition.

Elected Speaker following his central role in the 1994 Republican takeover of the U.S. House, Gingrich was floated as a potential challenger to President Bill Clinton in 1996.

He passed on that race and by the end of 1998 he was out of Congress entirely, resigning after his prediction of Republican seat gains in that election proved drastically incorrect.

In 2008, Gingrich took a very serious look at running but backed away at the last minute citing his inability to leave American Solutions, the web of fundraising and policy groups he has created since leaving office.

Gingrich’s long life in the national spotlight is both his greatest strength and greatest weakness in the 2012 campaign.

He is universally well known — and generally well liked — by Republican primary voters, a positioning that other lesser-known candidates like Pawlenty and Huntsman will have to spend millions to rival.

Gingrich is also widely respected in GOP circles as a serious and innovative policy mind. “Newt Gingrich has always been an ideas man, and I’m sure will provide a lot of positive input in the debate,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) said of the Georgia Republican.

But, Gingrich’s notoriety hasn’t always been a good thing. His personal life — he has been married three times — is likely to become an issue for some social conservatives and his penchant for rhetorical excess could well get him into trouble.

For more on Gingrich, make sure to check out:

* Gingrich’s Political Inner Circle

* Good Newt vs Bad Newt

* Newt Gingrich: Serious candidate or sideshow?

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report