TAMPA -- Newt Gingrich – who is traveling around the state by plane, was preceded on the stage by Michael Reagan and Herman Cain -- addressed a small but enthusiastic crowd at an airplane hangar at Tampa Jet Center. His campaign had curtained off 2/3 of the hangar, but the crowd didn’t fill the remaining third.
He took the stage nearly 2 hours late, but offered no explanation – ripping quickly into Romney and Obama.
He called Tuesday a "really really big day" said a late poll has him tied with Romney at 35-35 – but didn’t name the poll. He said he’s still fighting after reports of his campaign's demise last summer and a well-financed, well-organized Romney assault. He said Romney has "spent $17.5 million on falsehoods.”
He closed with an appeal for help.
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“We really need your help, we need you on FaceBook, we need you Twittering, if that’s what you do, we need you on email,” he said. “We need you calling people, and to show I’m old fashioned we need you talking face to face ”
He said he’s carrying the conservative banner.
“We have a pretty good understanding of what we stand for, the declaration of independence, the constitution, the federalists’ papers. Limited, effective government.judges who obey the constitution.”
“With your help we’re going to win a great victory tomorrow and send a great signal to George Soros, Goldman Sachs. money power can’t buy people power.”
He said Obama’s re-election would “permanently weaken” the U.S. and that he’s best prepared to defeat him because of his conservatism and debating skills.
He assailed what he called Obama’s “attacks on religion,” referencing the health care rules regarding contraception for religious institutions.
He said Romney has a similar record and accused Romney on imposing regulations on Catholic churches and of cutting off kosher meals for Jewish patients on Medicare “to save $5 a day.”
“We need a government that respects our religion,” he said, adding that he’s tired of being told he has to respect other religions. (I didn’t get the quote on this, but can pull off tape if anyone wants).
He said George Soros – the liberal financier – was quoted in a “European” publication over the weekend as saying that “There’s really no difference between Obama and Romney, I’m comfortable with either one. Now, Gingrich that would be real change.”
“George Soros is right. I am real change, that’s why the establishment is terrified. We will change things.”
He singled out as an example of American ingenuity a guy in the audience who had made a poster with pictures of Obama and Romney with the caption: “Mitt no mistake: Obamacare is Romneycare.”
“I love people power, not money power and I think people power will win,” he said.
He also repeated his call to replace Florida Sen. Bill Nelson “with a conservative.”
He vowed his first days in office to scrap Obama’s “czars,” repeal Obama’s health care legislation, Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes Oxley ““and that’s just for openers.”
He repeated his pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel, says he’d authorize the building of the Keystone pipeline.
And he raised the “challenge of radical Muslims” and said the administration “refuses to talk honestly about the threat.” Said he wouldn’t allow sharia law in us courts – a favorite conservative rallying cry.
The campaign curtained off 2/3 off a cavernous hangar and organizers urged the sparse crowd to press in to fill the space.
It was billed as beginning at 1 p.m. but Michael Reagan didn’t take the stage til 2:30. At one point an emcee told the waiting crowd that the “three most important people” were doing TV interviews.
Reagan warmed up the crowd by vouching for Gingrich’s Reagan credentials – Romney’s campaign has pointed out that Reagan only mentioned Gingrich once in his memoirs.
“The people who are saying he wasn’t there, weren't there,” Reagan said.
And Reagan suggested that the U.S. liberty is at risk.
“Think of liberals as termites,” Reagan said. “Eating away at the foundation of your home every day.”
Gingrich stood on a stage with a bleacher of supporters behind him. One woman held a sign that read “Newt-er the Bamster. Bring on the debate.”
The audience was packed with Gingrich fans – including Stephen VanderGast, 37 of Valrico, who brought his 4-year-old sons, Samuel and Ian. They carried handmade “Future Astronauts for Newt” signs.
“He’s the best candidate to take on Obama, he’s brilliant,” said VanderGast, who said he’d admired Gingrich since his days as House Speaker. He said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about a Gingrich victory in Florida, but would urge the candidate to keep going.
“The more he stays and makes his point, articulates his message, the more people will respond,” VanderGast said.