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In Iowa, Gingrich seeks to regroup

May 21, 2011|By Seema Mehta and Maeve Reston
(Charlie Neibergall, AP )

WATERLOO, Iowa -- Newt Gingrich has faced a rough road on the campaign trail in recent days, and tried to use his barnstorming tour of Iowa last week to refocus his candidacy on policy instead of gaffes, notably his criticism of a fellow Republican’s proposal to privatize Medicare that drew has drawn sharp rebukes from conservatives.

In a sprint through the state that holds the first caucuses in the nation, Gingrich touted  legislative achievements from his two-decade tenure in Congress, and a broad array of policy proposals he would push if he were elected president in 2012.

Outlining his economic  plan last week, he called for eliminating the capital gains and estate taxes and slicing corporate taxes.

STORY: Gingrich hits bumps in presidential campaign

Calling President Obama “the most successful food stamp president in history,” Gingrich told an audience of some 150 people who gathered at the Marshalltown Public Library that he would like “to be the most successful paycheck president in history."

"In the fall of 2012, the question is going to be: Would you like a future where you and your children get food stamps or would you like a future where you and your children get paychecks? These are fundamentally different futures. And I believe this country will overwhelmingly choose the Gingrich paycheck plan over an Obama food stamp plan,” Gingrich said.

The former House speaker consistently drew applause when he outlined what some of his first actions would be were he to win the presidency, including  replacing the “extremist” Environmental Protection Agency with an “Environmental Solutions Agency.” (He did not say what the new agency would do.)

Within an hour of his inaugural speech, he said, he would sign between 50 and 200 executive orders, some of which would be crafted over the next year with input from voters and posted on his website by next fall.

Some of his proposals were directly tailored to socially conservative Iowa voters. He called for reinstating Reagan’s “Mexico City” policy banning the use of aid money to pay for abortion overseas and forcing the State Department to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Some Iowans said that Gingrich's  retail politicking would not drown out the chorus of criticism of him by Republicans in Congress and elsewhere.

“He has both star power and idea power. He’s well known and has lots of ideas and that’s a big asset. The problem is his first steps in the field reinforced his negatives -- he lacks discipline,” said Doug Gross, a prominent Des Moines attorney and GOP activist who has yet to commit to a candidate. “It’s not disqualifying, but it comes as close as you’d ever want to come.”

John Feehery, a GOP consultant who has not committed to any 2012 candidate, said Gingrich may be better suited to  the role he has performed for the last decade -- as a political commentator and author with national reach -- than to being a candidate.

“He makes a great pundit, not a great candidate,” Feehery said. “Candidates have to identify messages that everyone can agree with, which tend to be boring. Pundits get on TV because they say interesting things.”

seema.mehta@latimes.com

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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