"We are going to want to find some way to deal with the people who are here, to distinguish between those who have no natural ties to the United States — and therefore you could deport them at minimum human cost — and those who in fact may have earned the right to become legal but not citizens," he said, running counter to existing GOP policy.
Political experts said appeals to early-state voters are vital, especially given the gale of criticism that has buffeted Gingrich.
"Even if he does a few interviews where he comes off as a loose cannon in the national media, for Iowa voters, the key will be that he still has small group meetings and is out shaking hands," said Christopher Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa.
It made the difference for Marcia Ziel, a 70-year-old Marshalltown resident who went to see Gingrich at the local library. She walked into the event concerned about Gingrich's gaffes, yet emerged committed to him.
"He has the knowledge; he's had the experience; his ideas are right on," Ziel said.
Mac Peterson, 71, was hesitant about Gingrich — and more likely to side with another candidate — after attending the brewery event.
"His mind is like a chess game: He's four or five steps ahead. But his mouth is four or five moves behind," said the former Ames restaurateur.
Gingrich could face another trial Sunday when he appears on CBS' "Face the Nation" — a move that Doug Gross, a prominent GOP activist in Des Moines who is undecided in the race, described as foolish.
"It's crucial for him that he not spend the next two weeks apologizing for something he said the day before," Gross said.
Mehta reported from Los Angeles and Reston from Iowa.