By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Hundreds of Newt Gingrich supporters crammed inside Tupelo Furniture Market Building V on Thursday for a glimpse of the presidential candidate on his whirlwind Mississippi tour.
Gingrich, who faces three other Republicans in Tuesday’s primary, took the stage around 3:45 p.m. after an introduction from his wife, Callista, and American Family Association founder Don Wildmon.
When he arrived, Gingrich smiled at the rousing applause of the roughly 500 people gathered to see him. That applause repeated often during the candidate’s half-hour speech, which started with a list of reasons voters should choose him and a litany of charges against President Barack Obama.
“I have two strengths,” Gingrich told the audience. “I can clearly articulate conservatism with conviction and can beat Obama in the debates. And when we win, I actually know what to do in Washington to get our program enacted into law.”
Northeast Mississippi residents who came to hear the speech said Gingrich appeals to them on many levels.
“I don’t know if he’s the guy I’ll vote for or not, but I believe he’s the only one who can beat Obama,” said Dorsey resident Cindy York. “There’s something about Mitt that doesn’t fit and Santorum isn’t really able to do it.”
Secret Service agents, law enforcement officers and representatives from numerous local and national media outlets – including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN and Politico – also milled around the area.
Some of the most passionate cheers came when Gingrich blasted Obama’s energy policy and blamed him for high gas prices. He also gave a nod to U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., by mentioning the Tupelo congressman’s interaction with Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Nunnelee last week grilled Chu about gas prices and got the secretary to say that lowering prices wasn’t his top priority; it’s weaning Americans off fossil fuels.
Gingrich defended fossil fuels and said the nation needs to amp up domestic drilling. He said Obama needs to sign the Keystone Pipeline bill, reopen drilling in the Gulf and open up designated areas in Alaska.
“My national security goal is to have America totally independent of the Middle East,” he said, “so that no American president ever bows to a Saudi king.”
Gingrich launched his Mississippi tour in Jackson earlier in the day. After Tupelo, he traveled to another event in Southaven.
When asked by the Daily Journal how important Mississippi is to his campaign, Gingrich said it’s a key state and its voters could change the entire tone of the primary race. He also said residents have warmly welcomed him.