GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich sought to rally support among tea party backers Saturday, portraying himself as the kind of rock-ribbed conservative best equipped to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in the fall.
Introduced to the music from the iconic underdog movie Rocky, Gingrich pledged to campaign on despite what he said was an effort by those in the Washington elite to force him out of the GOP primary with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
In stumping across the state, Gingrich mainly ignored Romney, but stepped up his criticism of Obama, describing him as a Chicago-machine politician dedicated to Saul Alinskys radicalism.
We need a president who is a paycheck president not a food stamp president, Gingrich told several hundred people at an outdoor tea party rally on a governmental mall in downtown Greensboro.
Later in the day, the former House speaker told a tea party rally in downtown Raleigh, that Obama was somebody whose values are radical, whose appointees are radical, and whose policies hurt everyday working Americans.
Earlier in the day, Gingrich toured the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte and made a campaign stop in Wilson.
Gingrich seemed to be looking past the primary to the fall election.
I have a simple test for every American before they vote this fall, Gingrich said in Greensboro. Can you afford four more years of Barack Obama? Can you afford four more years of unemployment. Can you afford four more years of massive deficits? Can you afford four more years of an anti-American energy policy that raises your gasoline and diesel prices?
In response to each question the crowd responded with a vigorous No!
The Obama campaign declined to respond.
Gingrich called his trip the last conservative standing tour. He acknowledged he is an underdog in the nomination fight. Romney, who will hold fund raisers in Raleigh and Charlotte, has 666 of the 1,149 delegates needed to clinch he nomination, while Gingrich has only 136 delegates.
Gingrich said he has received 6,000 donations since former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum announced on Tuesday he was withdrawing from the race.
In Raleigh, Gingrich asked the crowd of a couple of hundred people: How many of you are glad that I am staying in the campaign? The crowd answered with cheers. How many of you think that it is a good idea that the last conservative standing is actually running? More cheers.
He noted North Carolina had saved conservatism in 1976 when it handed California Gov. Ronald Reagan a huge upset over President Gerald Ford in the GOP primary and that it could do it again.
North Carolina changed history, Gingrich said. You have a chance again to change history. You can help us send a signal that despite the best efforts of the Washington elite they dont get to pick the presidential nominee you do. Amen, someone in the crowd shouted.
Richard Beavers, 67-year-old dentist from Greensboro, said he was glad that Gingrich was staying in the race because he liked a lot of Gingrichs ideas, and because he is helping keep the party focused on conservative principles.
It has helped keep Mitt Romney more attuned to our way of thinking, Beavers said.
Gingrich is campaigning in the state on a shoestring, with no advertising budget, asking supporters to use social media like Facebook and Twitter, and old-fashioned telephone calls and face-to-face conversations to spread the word.
I cant match Mitt Romney and go to Wall Street and raise millions, Gingrich said. I ask you to provide people power to offset money power.
Gingrich stumped on a broad range of issues, calling for making the U.S. energy independent, pushing for a major private-public partnership for brain research, modernizing the Veterans Administration, allowing younger workers to opt into private Social Security savings accounts.
He called for repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act, which Republicans like to call Obamacare. He said the president is particularly proud of a provision of that allows young people to continue on their parents insurance policy until age 26.
Gingrich said he had his own plan.
I would like to ensure that young people can get a job so they can buy their own insurance, Gingrich.