Gingrich Makes Play for Evangelicals and Tea Partiers

Newt GingrichFacing the possibility of a stinging defeat,
Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich combined sharp attacks
on Mitt Romney with unspoken appeals for support among the state’s
evangelicals on Sunday, two days before the pivotal Florida primary.


In an unusual
commitment of campaign time, the former House speaker attended a pair of
Baptist worship services, where he sat in a pew, accompanied by his
wife, Callista, and made no remarks.

In
between a morning stop at a megachurch in the Tampa area and an evening
visit to a church in Jacksonville, Gingrich unleashed an attack on
Romney as a “pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase liberal”
who could not be trusted to bring conservative values to the White
House.

He also drew rousing cheers from a
large crowd, numbered in the thousands, at a retirement community, where
a Tea Party Express bus rolled slowly behind the platform where he was
speaking.

Increasingly, Gingrich has reached
out to evangelicals and tea party advocates as the Florida primary
approaches, touting an endorsement from campaign dropout Herman Cain as
well as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s recent accusation that the
establishment was trying to “crucify” him.

Standing
outside the First Jacksonville Baptist church as dusk fell, Kurt Kelly,
chairman of Florida Faith Leaders for Newt Gingrich, said the candidate
held a midweek conference call with an estimated 1,000 evangelical
pastors around the state.

He said the goal of
the call was to solidify support as much as possible behind Gingrich, at
the expense of rival contender Rick Santorum, who is running a poor
third in the pre-primary polls in the state.

In the course of the conversation, Kelly said, Gingrich “shared his faith, shared his vision and shared his past.”

Kelly did not expand on his reference to Gingrich’s past, although the former speaker has been married three times.

He
said one of the other pastors on the call questioned Gingrich further,
and the candidate “showed a contrite heart and showed true confession
and true repentance.”

Gingrich was anything but repentant in his remarks about Romney during the day.

During
a pair of Sunday morning television interviews, he said his chief rival
had adopted a “basic policy of carpet-bombing his opponent.”

One
of the ads being run by Romney suggests that Gingrich is exaggerating
his ties to Ronald Reagan. Gingrich chafed at that, noting that the
former president’s son Michael was joining him on the campaign trail
Monday “to prove to everybody that I am the heir to the Reagan movement,
not some liberal from Massachusetts.”

Cain, a tea party favorite, will also appear with Gingrich on Monday.

At
a large rally Sunday at The Villages, a sprawling retirement community
in central Florida, Gingrich accused Democratic President Barack Obama
of coddling foreign leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iran’s
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“I believe we need to be
stronger than our potential enemies,” Gingrich told the crowd. “The
president lives in a fantasy world where there are no enemies, there are
just misguided people with whom he has not yet had coffee.”

He
said Chavez “deliberately, cynically and insultingly gave him an
anti-American book and Obama didn’t have a clue that he’d been
insulted.”

He said the Obama administration
should be focused on Ahmadinejad’s “pledge to wipe out Israel and drive
America out of the Middle East.”

“But if I
were a left-wing Harvard law graduate surrounded by really clever
left-wing academics I would know that this was really a sign that
(Ahmadinejad) probably had a bad childhood,” Gingrich said.

He
described Obama’s approach to Ahmadinejad as, “If only we could unblock
him we could be closer to him and we could be friends together.”

Gingrich,
who served in the House for two decades, also made a populist pitch as a
Washington outsider. He said the GOP’s “old establishment” is trying to
block his path to nomination.

“It’s time that
someone stood up for hard-working, taxpaying Americans and said,
`Enough,'” Gingrich said. “And if that makes the old order
uncomfortable, my answer is, `Good.'”

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