By Joe Tash
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spent Tuesday morning, Feb. 14, having breakfast with supporters at the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club as part of a three-day fundraising swing through California.
Between 40 and 45 people attended the breakfast, which was closed to the public and news media. According to a New York Times report, attendees paid $500 per plate, or $1,000 to have their photo taken with the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former U.S. senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas congressman Ron Paul.
Gingrich faces an uphill battle to remain in the race against the better-funded Romney and Santorum, who swept three primary contests last week in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado.
After the breakfast meeting, Gingrich paused at the country club’s entrance to speak briefly with reporters.
Gringrich said the trip to California was important to his campaign, both in terms of shoring up support for the June primary and the fall general election, and for fund-raising purposes.
“We’re also raising a fair amount of money on the trip, which is very, very helpful to be able to compete on Super Tuesday, which is our next big focus,” Gingrich said.
He referred to the Super Tuesday primaries, on March 6, when voters in 10 states — including Georgia, Massachusetts and Ohio — will cast ballots for the Republican nominee for president. Before that, voters in Arizona, Michigan and Washington state will have their say.
He rejected the contention that California’s June 5 primary could come too late to make a difference in the contest.
“I think it’s going to go a long time,” Gingrich said of the nominating process, noting that a week ago, he was in second place behind Romney and Santorum was in fourth, but Santorum surged after his recent wins and bumped the former speaker to fourth place.
“This has been like riding Space Mountain at Disney. We’ve had this up and down roller coaster effect. By Super Tuesday I’ll be back in the middle of the hunt,” he said.
His “big ideas,” such as expanding petroleum production to bring gasoline prices to $2 per gallon, and allowing young people to invest in Social Security savings accounts, will turn the tide, Gingrich said.
Gingrich dismissed an editorial posted Monday, Feb. 13, on National Review Online, a conservative media outlet, that called for Gingrich to endorse Santorum and exit the race. “… it would be a grave mistake for the party to make someone with such poor judgment and persistent unpopularity its presidential nominee,” the editorial said of Gingrich.
Gingrich said the National Review editors are a “bunch of Washington insiders” who have prematurely written off his candidacy in the past. “I think they represent the opinion of a handful of people who sit around in Washington, chatting with each other and going to Georgetown cocktail parties.”
While Gingrich’s future in the race may be uncertain, he seemed to have made a positive impression Tuesday in Rancho Santa Fe.
Carmel Valley resident Mike Pierce, a registered Republican, said he was a little undecided about who he would support as the GOP standard-bearer against President Obama, but halfway through Gingrich’s talk on Tuesday morning, he decided to vote for the former House speaker from Georgia.
“I came to learn and I came to be convinced and he did that for me,” said Pierce, adding that he planned to donate to Gingrich’s campaign.
Martha Kaloogian, who attended the event with her husband, Howard Kaloogian, a former state assemblyman and chairman of the political action committee for the Tea Party Express, said she found Gingrich “authoritative, presidential, and someone I that I feel safe with for foreign policy as well as domestic.”
John Cox of Rancho Santa Fe said one attendee commented, “You are the real deal. You are a guy who’s actually done what he said he was going to do.”
“Newt Gingrich with the contract for America actually balanced the budget, which seems like a quaint, old-fashioned concept… it’s something he accomplished,” Cox said.
Cox, a businessman, was at the event both to hear Gingrich and to highlight an initiative he is backing called the Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act, which would overhaul the California legislative process with the goal of taking special interest money out of politics.
After talking with reporters, Gingrich and his staff boarded his “Newt 2012” campaign bus, which was parked in the lot outside the country club, and headed to his next appearance, at the Tulare World Ag Expo in central California, followed by a private, $2,500 per person cocktail reception at a home in Fresno.