Reporting from Columbia, S.C. -- — Newt Gingrich, his rumpled-professor suit coat buttoned, spun out a detailed step-by-step proposal to bring new manufacturing jobs to an economically battered South Carolina, winning rousing applause both times he made the pitch in two campaign appearances in the state’s capital.
“One of my happiest moments as president would be to come to Charleston to see the first container ship carrying South Carolina manufactured goods to China,” he said, pausing to wait for the cheering to subside as he addressed several hundred seniors. “Now that would be a better future for all of us.”
The former House speaker said offshore drilling for natural gas would produce royalties that could pay to deepen the port of Charleston so it could dock the larger ships that will soon come through a widened Panama Canal. And he said regulatory reforms could create new jobs in South Carolina, noting that one economic prediction indicated it could soon be almost as cheap to manufacture in the state as in China.
Gingrich did not bring up his harsh criticisms of Mitt Romney’s role at Bain Capital, a private equity firm the former Massachusetts governor says added jobs and some of his opponents say subtracted them.
His second speech was at a homeownership rally on the Capitol’s north steps. After he was introduced, he made a grand entrance from the building, gingerly descending 44 steps to the podium. Afterward, he declined to answer questions about Bain Capital as a media mob swarmed him and followed him to his campaign bus. His spokesman, had said he would speak to the media, but explained, “Time ran short.”
Although he did not directly assail Romney, whom his campaign has called “a timid Massachusetts moderate Republican” in an email to supporters, he said, “I am running because I believe we need leadership clear enough and conservative enough to defeat Barack Obama in debates.”
He said that he would implement “the Reagan playbook” to create jobs through lower taxes, less regulation and more energy produced in America. “We need enough American energy that no president will ever again bow to a Saudi king,” he said, a line that drew hearty applause.
Gingrich also pledged to call for an audit of the Federal Reserve and the Department of Treasury to learn where all the money went in the Wall Street bailout, noting with some relish that he has been intensely criticized by “so-called conservatives.”
“I think when you have crony capitalism and politicians taking care of their friends, that’s not free enterprise,” he said. “That’s just back-door socialism in which the rich get all the money and the rest of us get left with all the debt.”
Gingrich’s first appearance was at the Palmetto Senior Show, a blend of displays and entertainment. The products and services pitched included retirement homes, caskets, insurers, shooting ranges, health care providers, alerting devices to “amplify life” and “mobility solutions.” One vendor advertised: “History comes alive at Elwood Cemetery.”
He began that speech by promising to make sure that Social Security is never again a pawn in debates over the federal budget, describing how he would do that in Washington-speak. “It is wrong to frighten America’s senior citizens because the politicians are too incompetent to get their job done, so let’s take it off-budget and guarantee that you will get your Social Security check without any blockage,” he said.
Gingrich won over at least one vote. Steve Rabon, the show’s 58-year-old owner, said he was undecided before his speech, but now thinks he will back him. He said that he invited all six GOP candidates to speak, but Gingrich was the only one who accepted.
Ron Paul’s supporters had a table displaying “The Ron Paul Family Cookbook” and political brochures. The buoyant volunteers said they were making progress. “Even the undecideds, we’ve actually converted people here,” said Nicole Quinn, a grass-roots organizer for the Texas congressman.
Gingrich’s speech came between sets by Second Nature, a rhythm and blues band whose Hawaiian shirt-wearing members listened. “I just hope Newt can bring us more work,” said sax player John Miranda. “He said he was going to create jobs, and that means us, too,” Larry King, the lead vocalist, responded.
After his speech, Gingrich was surrounded by more than 60 people who waited patiently as he shook hands and chatted with every one of them, even the band members, in receiving-line fashion.
Marty Johnson, a 62-year-old retired telephone service technician, appreciated Gingrich’s job-creation scenario for South Carolina. “Everything you pick up says ‘Made in China,’” he said. But he has not decided which candidate to choose. “I agree with everything he says,” he said. “Unfortunately, I agree with most all of them because they’re all saying the same things.”