As he surged to the top of two national polls Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spent nearly three hours at the Santa Maria Winery in Carroll on Monday, speaking with voters, taking questions, signing books and screening a movie he co-developed celebrating Pope John Paul II.
Gingrich also conducted a 10-minute interview with The Carroll Daily Times Herald and La Prensa, an Iowa Spanish-language newspaper, before going on air nationally with Fox News’ Sean Hannity from a makeshift, temporary studio on the west side of the winery.
It was Gingrich’s second visit to Carroll in the campaign cycle, and momentum had turned decidedly in his favor in the hours before he addressed nearly 200 people at John and Rose Guinan’s local winery.
Public Policy Polling on Monday showed Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia, with 28 percent support in national GOP primary surveying. Businessman Herman Cain was in second at 25 percent with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney garnering 18 percent, according to the polling firm.
Another national poll of Republican voters released Monday — this one from CNN — had Romney at 24 percent, Gingrich at 22 percent and Cain at 14 percent in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.
“This is a year when substance and solutions matter,” Gingrich said. “I think like the conversation tonight, I don’t give them slogans. I don’t try to make them feel better with things that are patently untrue. And I think people are really looking for a leader who will work with them to develop real solutions.”
At one point in the local interview Gingrich described himself as follows: “I’m a genuine, intellectual conservative.”
That considered, Gingrich said the series of nationally televised Republican presidential debates has helped his campaign, resurrected it really, because voters can assess him directly.
“Frankly, without the debates my campaign would have been dead because the news media wouldn’t have covered it, and I couldn’t have raised the kind of money that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry could raise,” Gingrich said.
One of the former House speaker’s major strengths is now coming to the fore with voters, he said.
“I’m the only national candidate running,” Gingrich said. “I’ve led a national movement to win control of the House.”
Gingrich noted that he played a key role with welfare reform and federal budget work in the 1990s.
“None of the other candidates have that type of background,” Gingrich said. “I think gradually it began to sink in to people.”
The Public Policy Polling group’s survey clearly shows that Gingrich’s momentum draws heavily on Republicans who have abandoned Cain, a former Godfather’s CEO who faces allegations of sexual harassment and has stumbled on foreign-policy questions in recent days.
In one instance, Cain clearly did not know that China has nuclear capabilities. The Daily Times Herald asked Gingrich if Cain’s lack of knowledge about a world superpower on a life-and-death military issue should be disqualifying for White House service.
“I think voters have to decide that,” Gingrich said. “It’s not my job to decide it. Different people have different strengths. Herman Cain is a very attractive and very articulate businessperson who has a very impressive background in business. He doesn’t have a background in government. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses.”
La Prensa asked Gingrich’s reaction to an often-repeated line from Cain about constructing a border fence with Mexico so that it can electrocute immigrants, and possibly even snare them in an associated moat stocked with alligators.
“It was a bad idea,” Gingrich said.
He added, “I hope he was joking. I’d like to think he was joking.”
Gingrich then turned to his own immigration plans, calling for control of the border in a way that is “human and practical.”
“I’m working on an immigration program which is firm but at the same time has a human aspect to it that I think most Hispanic Americans would appreciate,” Gingrich said.
Earlier, in a question-and-answer session with voters in the winery, Gingrich said he wanted to impose severe penalties for employers who hired undocumented workers. Moreover, he put forward a plan modeled on the Selective Service System used by the military in World War II in which local committees of citizens could help determine the immigration status of a city’s illegal residents based on factors like how long they’ve lived in the area, family roots and contributions socially and in business.
Gingrich said rhetoric about deporting all illegal immigrants isn’t realistic.
“I think it’s very unlikely the American people are going to break up families,” Gingrich said.
In other remarks to the audience, Gingrich said he is “deeply opposed to raising taxes” in a recession. He said opening up offshore drilling in the United States is a way to boost revenue through royalties. Gingrich also had strong comments on education, saying schools too often seek to provide students with unearned self-esteem and academic diplomas or degrees.
“None of the Founding Fathers would think that made any sense because it’s fundamentally a lie,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich, a former history professor at West Georgia College, reminded the audience that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for Americans to pray on the radio during the hours after D-Day and at other points in World War II.
A president today would be challenged if he took such measures, Gingrich said.
“We’d probably have an ACLU lawsuit against the president,” Gingrich said.
In the interview with The Daily Times Herald Gingrich said he wants to take federal money away from Planned Parenthood and funnel it into an adoption-promotion program.
“I come out of a background where my father was adopted and I was adopted,” Gingrich said. “We have a very deep sense that this culture has made it all too easy to end a life than to find a way to encourage a life.”
Much of the crowd at the winery stayed after Gingrich’s remarks to watch the movie “Nine Days That Changed the World” about Pope John Paul II’s historic nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979 created a revolution of conscience that transformed Poland and fundamentally reshaped the spiritual and political landscape of the 20th Century.
Gingrich and his wife, Callista, a former congressional staffer and graduate of Luther College in Decorah, along with a Polish, American, and Italian cast, explore what transpired during these nine days that moved the Polish people to renew their hearts, reclaim their courage, and free themselves from the shackles of Communism. The film was produced in partnership with Citizens United Productions.