Despite trailing the rest of the candidates in the Republican primary polls in Tennessee, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took on President Barack Obama — and a handful of Occupy protesters — at his campaign stop in Nashville.
Gingrich preached mostly about his oil and energy strategy to a crowd of roughly 200 on the east lawn of the State Capitol. Gingrich said he had an “identity” with the setting, which was near the grave of James K. Polk, the only speaker of the house to be elected president.
The 30-minute speech mostly focused on Gingrich's plan to lower gas prices back down to $2.50 — which he said could be achieved by creating more opportunities to utilize oil in the U.S. rather than relying on the “volatile and unstable Middle East.”
“[The next time you are at the gas pump] ask yourself how much would you save if you used the $2.50 per gallon plan,” Gingrich said.
His speech touched on the same points as a 30-minute advertisement Gingrich purchased on WSMV-TV which ran Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
However, unlike the ad, Gingrich faced opposition from Occupy Nashville protesters toward the latter half of his speech. Five protesters, one wearing a “Free Syria” shirt and waving a red flag, started call and response chants like “Wake up! It's class war!”
Gingrich addressed the Occupiers, saying “no matter how strange your ideas, you still have the freedom to yell them.” Other attendees chanted “Newt! Newt!” while another called the protesters “freaks.” Shortly thereafter, Gingrich wrapped up his speech as Occupy Nashville continued to chant “Liar! Liar!” in the background. State troopers and a member of Gingrich's campaign asked the protesters to leave, and they obliged.
In the latest Vanderbilt University poll of Republican primary voters, Gingrich finished fourth behind Sen. Rick Santorum, Gov. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. However, the poll also showed that 13 percent were undecided.
“This is a very fluid race with lots of ‘don’t knows’ and ‘none of the aboves,’” said John Geer, political science professor at Vanderbilt.
But even though he's trailing in the polls, Gingrich didn't hint at the thought of an uphill climb. Instead, he urged rally attendants to envision a debate between him and Obama — making no mention of his GOP opponents.
The rally was one of several Gingrich campaign stops in Middle Tennessee today. He started the day at a healthcare roundtable discussion at Baker Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz's law offices, then hosted a GOP luncheon at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis.
Gingrich was also set to address the GOP Caucus at the State Capitol. The event was closed to media. A Williamson County fundraiser with former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, who introduced Gingrich at the rally, was scheduled to end the day.