Gingrich woos voters in Martin County today, returns to West Palm Beach tonightby Jane Musgrave | January 28th, 2012
STUART – Before GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich arrived at the Martin County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day brunch this morning, party chairman Susan Auld paraphrased the revered president to warn of the dangers of the negative campaigning that has punctuated the run-up to Tuesday’s primary.
“As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand,” she said. “I would say a party divided against itself cannot win.”
The party faithful who gathered at the Willoughby Country Club gave Gingrich a warm welcome. Some said they had already voted for the former House Speaker or would do on Tuesday after being impressed with his articulate command of the problems facing the country and his proposed solutions.
Still, Auld said, at least two members said they wouldn’t attend the breakfast because of the attacks Gingrich made on his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, during nationally-televised debates. “Newt came on pretty strong,” she said.
Auld said she worries if the infighting among the Republican candidates continues it will weaken the party’s efforts to defeat President Obama in November.
While his Super Pac, Winning Our Future, unleashed a new TV ad in Florida on Friday, accusing Romney of being involved in a massive Medicare fraud scheme in the 1990s, Gingrich stuck to his own accomplishments during his talk and question-and-answer session. In fact, he never mentioned Romney.
His attacks were directed at Obama. “This particular president is so out of touch with reality that he is a fundamental threat to American safety,” he said, decrying defense spending cuts as ill-timed and dangerous.
He focused his talk on his leadership of the House, his close ties with President Ronald Reagan and how he would use his years of experience to turn the country around. He answered a broad range of questions, from education to social security to defense.
He said he would like each state to have a work-study college so young people could graduate from college without going deeply into debt. He proposed to rescue the beleaguered Social Security system by giving young people the option of investing retirement savings in personal accounts instead of being forced to pay into social security. The system, he said, has worked in Chile and would work here.
“Because the money would be in your own account you would no longer have politicians telling you when to retire,” he said.
Afterward, Palm Beach Gardens resident Bob Nager said Gingrich might have won his vote.
“I’ve been dramatically moved by his address today,” said Nager, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran who now runs a defense consulting business. “I’m very impressed with his debating ability, his intellect, his principles.”
Like Auld, Tequesta resident Paul Bodnar said the venom in the campaign has gotten out of control. But, he said, he felt Romney has aimed punches lower than Gingrich, who has his vote. “They both have to stop doing it,” he said. “It’s not beneficial to the Republican Party. Stick to the issues.”
After a day of campaigning, Gingrich will return to the area tonight to speak at the Palm Beach County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner at the Kravis Center. Roughly 700 are expected.