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Defiant Gingrich defends campaign
newt signing
GOP presidential hopeful and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich signs copies of one of his books Tuesday. - photo by Photo by Calli Arnold

SAVANNAH—Newt Gingrich took shots at the national media and President Obama at an appearance in Savannah on Tuesday night.

“The elite media is Obama,” said Gingrich, a Republican candidate for president. “The elite media will do anything to keep someone who is articulate from debating against Obama next year.”

Speaking to an audience of more than 100 at a Tea Party event, the former House speaker and Georgia congressman dismissed reports from the Associated Press that his campaign is in peril after the mass exodus of campaign staff earlier this month, including two fundraisers the morning of the event, and estimates that the campaign is $1 million in debt.

“The whole point is, nobody has a clue why they left; nobody has a clue whether they were failing to perform. Nobody knows anything except (that) it’s gossip,” Gingrich said, refusing to comment further on his campaign woes.

“I’ve always run grassroots campaigns,” said the GOP presidential hopeful, “and I’ve always run underfunded campaigns. I ran in the mid ’70s when there were no Republican congressmen in Georgia. So I’m used to running a grassroots campaign and my goal is to have a real opportunity to reach the American people.”

Gingrich was quick to remind the audience of his achievements as Speaker of the House during the ’90s and stressed the need for a president who is “prepared” to make tough decisions.

Said Gingrich: “I think we’re going to reach a lot of people across the country (during the campaign); I’m going to be involved in the debates. And I think that’s going to give people the opportunity to see what it’s like to have somebody who has actually balanced the budget, reformed welfare, cut taxes, done fairly significant things in Washington and is prepared to do them again.”

He said the United States needs to seriously rethink its strategy in the Middle East and that Congress should cut funding for the military conflict in Libya.

“The Congress has a very direct method of communicating with the president: cut off the money,” said Gingrich. “…And I think that they’re about to run into a collision. They have an obligation to cut off the money in Libya.”

He called the trouble at the Mexican border a “straightforward problem” and said there should be a deadline of “absolute control” of the border by Jan. 1, 2013.

“I’ve said I will be prepared to take half of the bureaucrats in the Department of Homeland Security and move them to Texas and New Mexico,” he continued.

People from the audience mostly said that they weren’t decided about which GOP candidate they’re behind but that they appreciate what Gingrich had to say and his coming to Savannah, which he said he has visited hundreds of times.

“I was hoping to hear more from someone I’ve watched on television, someone I’ve watched over the years as a national figure and get to see him in person and see how he reacts in a small, intimate, local crowd,” said Quentin Marlin, a member of the Savannah chapter of the Young Republicans.

“I think it’s still in the early stages of the Republican primary, and I’m interested in hearing what the other candidates have to say as well.”

Chris Longworth, a Savannah native, said he’s “new to politics” said that he is in favor of Gingrich and sees him as one of the best candidates in the race.

“I think that he’s probably one of the best candidates out there,” said Longworth. “I think he’s one of the more moderate. Our politics is driven by extremists, and he’s got experience. People say that the Demorcrats always go back to, ‘Well, Clinton balanced the budget.’ That’s the man right there, that’s the reason Clinton balanced that budget, was Newt Gingrich. I’m new to politics, but I know my history.”

In addition to answering questions, Gingrich screened a new, hour-long documentary he and his wife Callista made called “City Upon a Hill: The Spirit of American Exceptionalism,” and signed copies of the DVD and of his new book.

Marolyn Overton, president of the Savannah Tea Party, said Gingrich had gotten in touch with her three weeks ago and they have heard back from four other candidates who’ve expressed interest in having the Savannah Tea Party and other local Tea Parties sponsor an appearance in Savannah, but would not say who.

“This is what we have been striving to accomplish,” said Overton. “So we now have our first candidate here, and we’re looking forward to the others coming.”

To those who doubt Gingrich’s prospects in 2012, he said “just watch.”

Said Gingrich: “I say to those folks: watch the campaign, listen to the speeches, watch the development of ideas. This is June. In June of 2007, Rudy Guilani was the frontrunner and Hillary Clinton was the frontrunner. In July of 2007, John McCain’s campaign collapsed and nobody would’ve bet that he was going to be the nominee…. I’m very happy to be out here giving speeches on substance. I think over time that resonates with people at a time of great economic problems; people want answers, not just gimmicks.”