I left work early tonight to attend a Newt Gingrich town hall meeting at a local Barbeque joint and I’ll relay what I saw and heard.
I’m terrible at estimating crowds but I’d say there were at least 400 people crammed into (and outside) this restaurant and even though I got there 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start (which was about 30 minutes late) I had to park about a quarter of a mile away from the restaurant.
I got a good spot in the receiving line and snapped these pictures of Speaker Gingrich as he approached me.
There was a gentleman (who was a Vietnam War veteran) in the receiving line next to me and he was asked by a member of the media why he was supporting Gingrich. He said he didn’t want Romney and liked the way Gingrich “put Juan Williams in his place” during the debate earlier in the week. I think Gingrich won many supporters during that exchange and this man was no exception.
Once inside, I heard the following key takeaways from his speech.
Gingrich promised to challenge Obama to 7 Lincoln-Douglas style debates and he stated that Obama would be allowed to use a teleprompter. Of course it goes without saying that Obama would never agree to that many or necessarily the format Gingrich laid out but I would love to see at least one of these, even if Gingrich isn’t the nominee!
Considering the recent news of Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline project, Gingrich said that the President’s grasp of real world economics is like someone who doesn’t understand how to play Tic-Tac-Toe. He said he can understand if someone doesn’t understand the intricacies of Chess but Obama can be compared to a person who can’t understand the basics of a simple game that all elementary school kids play. This, according to Gingrich, is a product of Obama’s lack of understanding of real world life and more importantly, economics.
Gingrich told the crowd to leave here and convince their friends, family and coworkers to vote for him but do it in a way that is not negative to Perry or Santorum. He specifically mentioned only these two other candidates.
Gingrich said the Romney would have a very difficult campaign against Obama because there would be no difference between Obamacare and Romneycare. This spring boarded into him making the point that with Gingrich as the nominee, Obama’s $1 billion of mudslinging would land safely in the middle (presumably away from Gingrich and inferring it would hit Romney).
The best line Gingrich had was when he stated that he’ll run against Obama by characterizing himself as the “paycheck president” and contrasting that with Obama as the “food stamp president.”
The event appeared to be comprised of a partisan crowd of Gingrich supporters and it was a good event where Gingrich was in his element. He was quick on his feet, answered questions well and even played to the crowd. At one point he was talking about the pursuit of happiness, which means happiness isn’t guaranteed, and he stated that Obama would like to have a department of happiness. After that statement someone in the crowd yelled out “and a happiness czar” and Gingrich loved that.
I have been clear in a previous post that I am going to vote for Romney on Saturday in the South Carolina primary and after the event today I was left with a feeling that many in South Carolina would be swayed by Gingrich’s aggressive debating style and most Palmetto state residents that I talk to would prefer Gingrich debating Obama. I left the event thinking that the vote on Saturday would be very close between Gingrich and Romney.
But when I got home the ABC story regarding one of Gingrich’s ex-wives having a “tell all” interview was leaked and now I’m back to the quote that was in a story from The Hill back in early December”
“Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill are nervous about Newt Gingrich’s rise in the polls, with one member saying, “Newt’s hand is always six inches from the self-destruct button.”
Even if this story is just the frustration of an ex-wife, it will do damage and Romney will win South Carolina easily and then Florida will just be a victory lap for him. But this will be good because Romney is still the only candidate that has a chance of beating Obama when looking at recent polling data.