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Newt Gingrich speaks to Asian American and Jewish groups in L.A.

The Republican presidential candidate, whose campaign has faltered, emphasizes U.S. military strength and support for Israel.

February 17, 2012|By Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times

Wilshire Boulevard, which collides with many enclaves as it wends through Los Angeles, is the perfect thoroughfare for a presidential aspirant looking to woo niche voters.

Newt Gingrich made his pitch Thursday to two distinctly different groups along Wilshire: Asian American business leaders in Koreatown, and Jewish voters who paid to lunch and pose for photos with the former House speaker in an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills.

Gingrich, who arrived in California on Monday, has trailed badly in polls and fared poorly in the last five states to hold voting contests. Despite calls in some Republican quarters for him to quit the race, which would presumably allow the surging Rick Santorum to mount a more cohesive conservative challenge to Mitt Romney, Gingrich says he is staying in.

"This thing has had a wild rhythm," Gingrich told reporters after his Koreatown event. "It resembles riding the Space Mountain in Disney. I've been the front-runner twice. I suspect I will be the front-runner again in a few weeks."

On Thursday, while his wife, Callista, visited a Christian school in Thousand Oaks, Gingrich tailored his pitches to voters.

To Asian Americans, he vowed to maintain American military strength in the region in the face of a potentially destabilizing power struggle in North Korea. To his Jewish supporters, he promised the U.S. would support Israel's response to Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons — whatever that may be.

"I will take very seriously maintaining American military strength. It's one of the things that worries me about President Obama, who has put the United States in enormous danger of becoming so weakened that it increases the danger of us getting either into a war or a series of very big problems," Gingrich told a couple of dozen supporters who gathered for a morning event in the chilly courtyard of the Korean Times building.

Ky Chueon Kim, a 69-year-old business administration professor, said he wanted to support Gingrich: "I want to say, 'Don't give up!' He has a lot of experience compared to the other candidates. I think we need his knowledge."

A few miles west, at a small fundraising luncheon of Jewish Republicans who paid between $500 and $2,500 at La Gondola restaurant in Beverly Hills, Gingrich spoke about tension in the Middle East, using the opportunity to chastise the Obama administration for what he described as a failure to deal with threats posed by Iran, North Korea and a nuclear Pakistan with government elements hostile to the United States.

"It's real in terms of a potential Pakistani weapon leaking. It's real in terms of the possibility of the North Koreans selling it. And it's real, third, in terms of the Iranians acquiring weapons which they will enthusiastically share," Gingrich said.

He defended the right of Israel to "launch an operation designed to dramatically slow down or disrupt the Iranian nuclear system.... Three nuclear weapons in the right place in Israel is literally, in a matter of seconds, the second Holocaust."

In his Koreatown exchange with reporters, Gingrich said that American policy toward Iran should be to "replace the current dictatorship. As long as you have people like that in charge, you will never be safe."

When pressed, he said he did not advocate assassination. Tools should include funding dissident groups, sabotaging the country's only gasoline refinery and attacking their computers with worms, he said.

Retired UCLA ophthalmologist Morry Waksberg, 64, at the Beverly Hills luncheon, said he was delighted with Gingrich's stances on Israel and Iran.

"Everything he said on Israel was exactly what I would hope the president of the United States would say and do," Waksberg said. "I have a tremendous respect for the current administration's humanity and idealistic belief of how to deal with bad people. But as the child of Holocaust survivors, I have a different sense of what you need to do with powerful evil people. They understand strength; they don't understand kindness."

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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