Gingrich draws hundreds -- and national spotlight -- to Bluffton rally

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Gingrich draws hundreds -- and national spotlight -- to Bluffton rally

By KYLE PETERSON
kpeterson@beaufortgazette.com
Published Tuesday, November 29, 2011   |  704 Words  |  

Newt Gingrich brought all the trappings of a newly minted front-runner Tuesday when he spoke at a campaign rally in old town Bluffton.

More than a dozen journalists crowded around the Republican presidential candidate, each jostling for the best camera position.

A CNN truck with a rooftop satellite parked nearby, beaming Gingrich's words into living rooms nationwide.

Hundreds of residents, who braved chilly weather for the campaign stop, reacted with riotous cheers and laughter to the candidate's applause lines about President Barack Obama's leadership.

"Obama has two different problems: performance and ideology," Gingrich told the crowd. "I mean, you can't be the most radical president and incompetent. You're allowed to be one or the other."

The former U.S. House speaker visited Sun City Hilton Head for a campaign stop in October, and his momentum has grown since. Back then, national polls estimated Gingrich's support at about 10 percent.

Survey results released Tuesday show Gingrich first among likely S.C. primary voters.

A poll by the American Research Group shows him leading former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by a 33-22 margin.

After opening a Bluffton victory office -- his fifth statewide -- Gingrich spoke for about 20 minutes. Then for 45 minutes, he answered questions on a variety of subjects, including illegal immigration, ethanol subsidies, "too big to fail" banks, the future of the space program, and the danger of electromagnetic pulse attacks on American infrastructure.

Bluffton resident Larry Hughes said he was impressed by how Gingrich spoke for so long on so many subjects without hesitation.

"I mean, it was a tour de force," Hughes said. "It was absolutely astounding, and I don't think there are very many politicians on today's scene who could do that."

Standing behind a small wooden podium in the Calhoun Street Promenade square, Gingrich called on Congress to abolish funding for the National Labor Relations Board. He said it was a "disgrace" for the federal government to fight against state illegal-immigration laws, such as the one passed by South Carolina's legislature this summer.

And he disputed the idea that the top 1 percent of Americans have rigged the economy in their favor.

"I'm not trying to compete with the Democrats on income distribution; I'm trying to compete with the Democrats on income creation," he said. "The best answer to inequality is a job."

Gingrich has challenged Obama to a series of three-hour debates with only timekeepers, no moderators. If he wins the GOP nomination, he said, he will shadow the president until the offer is accepted.

"If the president has not accepted the seven debates, I will announce that, as of that date, the White House is my scheduler," he said. "And wherever President Obama goes, I will show up four hours later, and I will answer whatever he said."

Sun City resident Jim McGrath said he had concerns Gingrich would not be able to attract independent voters, but hearing him speak assuaged that worry.

"I have been Romney all along, because I believe he had the best chance," he said. "I am now wavering."

But like many undecided primary voters, McGrath won't pass final judgment until it's time to cast his ballot.

"My decision will be Jan. 21," he said.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

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