GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks during a visit to Kingsport Monday. David Grace photo.
KINGSPORT — On the Monday before Super Tuesday, Republican presidential challenger Newt Gingrich pitched his plan to lower gas prices to $2.50 per gallon while blasting incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama on several political fronts.
“Everybody on Facebook, when you get to your home page, say ‘Newt equals $2.50 a gallon gasoline,’ ” the former U.S. House speaker told a luncheon gathering of about 150 Republican women and other supporters at the Food City on Eastman Road.
At Food City and at a downtown Kingsport rally, Gingrich insisted approving the Keystone oil pipeline, and drilling for oil off the Gulf of Mexico and in federal lands off Alaska, would generate more than 2 million barrels per day.
“I actually believe the price will go way below this ($2.50 per gallon). ... When I was speaker of the House (in the 1990s, gas) was $1.13. When Obama was sworn in, it was $1.89,” said Gingrich.
Gingrich called gas prices approaching $4 per gallon “Obama’s personal failure” as president.
“The only reason (Obama administration officials) are pretending to be concerned is they think it will beat them this fall (in the general election),” Gingrich said.
The Obama administration, Gingrich noted, has wanted higher energy prices by making coal-fired power plant construction expensive and pushing people toward alternative fuels.
Gingrich said the federal government gives out $7,500 tax credits to buy a battery-powered Chevrolet Volt, and added those purchasers have an average annual family income of more than $170,000.
The Obama administration thinks “green wealth” is good, according to Gingrich.
“Liberals have a fixation about getting people out of big vehicles. ... What they don’t understand is you can’t put a gun rack in a Volt...” he said to laughter and applause. “I’m against a president telling us what we are allowed to buy.”
Gingrich dismissed GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney’s criticism that his plan to lower gas prices is pandering.
“There’s this thing called setting goals. It’s not called pandering. It’s called leadership...” Gingrich said. “We’ve tried an amateur for three years, and it doesn’t work very well.”
Gingrich told Republicans the fall 2012 presidential election is the most important election in our lifetime.
“To re-elect Barack Obama would be a disaster ... from the radical judges he would appoint to the radical policies he would follow. ... We need somebody who can stand on the same stage and debate Barack Obama in October,” Gingrich said.
Romney, said Gingrich, can outspend his GOP opponents but will not be able to outspend Obama’s campaign.
“We will have to prove in the (presidential) debates that (Obama’s) advertising is irrelevant, and I think we can do that...” Gingrich stressed. “We’re not just against Obama. We’re for a dramatically better America, an America you cannot achieve with his left-wing values. ... We’ve got to draw a very sharp distinction with Barack Obama.”
Gingrich said “the elite media” was fascinated last weekend with Rush Limbaugh and whether the radio talk show host should apologize for calling a Georgetown University law student a “slut” over her testimony about birth control before Congress.
“The apology I worry about is Barack Obama apologizing to religious fanatics while they’re killing young Americans (in Afghanistan). ... I will not apologize as commander-in-chief when young Americans are under fire,” Gingrich emphasized.
Gingrich and his state chairman, GOP state Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport, both suggested the race among the Republican presidential candidates is tightening heading into Super Tuesday.
A Real Clear Politics daily tracking poll on Monday for the Tennessee GOP presidential primary showed former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum ahead at 32.3 percent, Romney at 29.7 percent, Gingrich at 24.7 percent and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul at 9.3 percent.
Neither Gingrich nor Santorum qualified to be on the Virginia GOP primary ballot.
Gingrich’s Tennessee campaign took a hit over the weekend when its state co-chair, Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville, announced he was switching his support to Santorum.
Shipley, however, said Campfield’s switch has no impact on the Gingrich campaign.
“(Campfield) had an honorary position in the campaign,” Shipley said. “If you’ll notice in his (Internet) blog, he acknowledged that Newt Gingrich is the best candidate in the pack. He was trying to make the best tactical decision for another candidate, but the polls show the campaign in a dead heat. ... I don’t think it’s that big a deal.”
At the end of both events, Gingrich said his campaign moves on to primary elections in Mississippi, Alabama and Kansas regardless of what happens with 10 primary states on Super Tuesday.
“We win Mississippi, Alabama and Kansas, and then I think we’re back in the race neck and neck,” Gingrich said before he boarded his campaign bus. “We will rebuild our base, and people realize that big ideas matter and things like $2.50 a gallon gasoline and having an American energy plan really attract people. I think we will do well. We’ve jumped amazingly in a week. We’re clearly going to win Georgia by a big margin.”