ROCK HILL, S.C. — Trailing another disappointing fourth place primary finish, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich added himself to a growing list of underdogs pinning their White House hopes on South Carolina voters Wednesday morning in Rock Hill.
But despite dismal numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, the former House speaker didn’t back down while addressing an enthusiastic crowd of about 300, not all from York County, gathered at the Magnolia Room at Laurel Creek.
Gingrich took the stage as some in the crowd chanted, “Newt! Newt! Newt!”
“It's good to be home in the South,” he said.
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Gingrich hit several right notes based on the crowd’s cheers and “Yeahs!”
Early on he struck a populist tone, berating “crony capitalism” for undermining “free enterprise” and called for broad changes in the culture of Washington.
Small banks in South Carolina and people under water on their mortgages weren't among those who benefited from the federal bailouts, he said. “But boy if you were big enough, they couldn't add enough zeros to the check.”
Gingrich also called for an American energy policy and advocated for natural gas development off South Carolina’s coast.
“South Carolina has at least $29 billion in natural gas offshore,” Gingrich said. Developing the industry “wouldn't affect tourism at all.”
Profits could go toward modernizing the Charleston port, he said to cheers.
On his first day as president, Gingrich said he will instruct the Department of Justice to drop any challenge of the Voter ID bill in South Carolina. He would also push for defunding the National Labor Relations Board, which challenged Boeing's opening a plant in South Carolina.
Gingrich also will insist on a complete and total audit of the federal reserve. He called for publication of their records. "We deserve to know...who got money and who didn't."
A call to replace the “Iranian dictatorship” with new leaders more friendly to the United States received a standing ovation.
Later, his press secretary R.C. Hammond said that Gingrich would support “clandestine” efforts, such as targeting gasoline refineries and exerting political and economic pressure to encourage or aid uprisings.
Responding to a question about Congress engaging in “insider trading,” Gingrich said he's running to fix that “bipartisan mess.”
It's a double problem because “our current campaign laws favor rich people....There's something profoundly wrong when rich people start buying offices,” he said.
We have a “lot more rich people in Congress than we used to” because they look for “self-funders” who have enough money to fund their own campaigns.
Questions about Gingrich’s marital history and ethics while entrenched in Washington politics have haunted him on the campaign trail.
He has refused to produce details of how his consulting firm earned $1.6 million from mortgage giant Freddie Mac in years leading up to the lender’s crash, which many blame for sending the country into financial crisis.
But Charlotte resident Martin Salas said none of the criticisms about Gingrich matter.
“Anyone who has made a lot of decisions in his life will always have things to be criticized,” he said.
Salas also agreed with Gingrich about the importance debate skills will play in facing Obama.
“We must have a leader who is prepared to go nose to nose (with Obama) in a debate,” Gingrich said.
Someone who is “inarticulate, moderate, or has no record of achievement” result in helping Republicans achieve their goal of winning the both chambers of Congress and the White House, Gingrich said.
Gingrich “takes complex ideas and clarifies them” in the debates showing he has a “mastery of the issues,” Salas said.
In closing, Gingrich said the next 10 days before South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary are the most important — it could be the chance for the state to do something different: to pick a conservative over a moderate, who won’t perform well in the debates, he said.
South Carolina's primary could end up being the last stop for some candidates. Historically the winner of the Palmetto State has gone on to become the Republican presidential candidate.
When a reporter asked how New Hampshire’s outcome changed the landscape of his chances in South Carolina, Gingrich said he didn’t think it changed very much.
The race in South Carolina will be between “a Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate” who will grow “weaker and weaker,” Gingrich said.
"When we nominate moderates, they can't debate," Gingrich said. "I believe I am the only conservative who has the capacity to unify the conservative movement."
After the event, voter Randy Rayfield, a storyteller from Union County, N.C., was waiting in line to shake Gingrich’s hand.
He’s probably the only candidate “who could go into Washington and make the changes” needed in government and the economy, he said.
But Rayfield isn’t sure what’s "buzz" and what’s not. "He talks pretty, don’t he."
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