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Newt Gingrich courts churchgoers in South Carolina

January 15, 2012|By Alana Semuels
(Matt Rourke / Associated…)

Reporting from Charleston, S.C. —

Detailing the histories of the nation’s founding fathers and belief in God, Newt Gingrich took an anti-secular message to 1,200 worshipers Sunday at the Cathedral of Praise church in Charleston, a church Rick Santorum had visited the day before. Both are courting evangelical voters as each tries to pull ahead as the clear conservative alternative to Mitt Romney in the days before South Carolina’s primary.

Standing on a stage with a giant screen picturing a hawk on a blue and red backdrop dotted with white stars, Gingrich pledged to defeat secularism and the “elites,” a group he referred to repeatedly in his speech.

“We have a domestic challenge -- defeating the secularists who would replace America as we have known it for 250 years with a different kind of country,” he said to thunderous applause.

Before he spoke, a large band with three trombones, three trumpets, a drummer and a handful of saxophonists played spiritual songs. After the music came a PowerPoint presentation on  court decisions mandating that prayer be excluded from public schools. Gingrich then went through various American political figures, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to prove that  “Our rights directly come from our creator,” another line that drew applause.

Gingrich railed on federal judges who “rewrote the Constitution” and pledged to rebalance the judiciary, concluding that “no antireligious bigot should serve as a US federal judge.”

“I, frankly, am beginning to initiate a conversation totally different from any presidential candidate we’ve seen in modern times,” he said.  

He also spoke of a danger of allowing Islamist gains overseas, criticizing Ron Paul – without naming him – for not opposing Iranian nuclear development.

“In Egypt, Coptic Christian churches are being burned – I don’t regard that as an Arab spring, I regard that as a nightmare,” he said, pledging to guard over Jerusalem, valued as a holy city by many Christians.

Gingrich tried to portray himself as the only candidate with enough experience and knowledge of history to take on the current administration.

“Let me be quite clear. If you want peaceful, pleasant managing the decay, I’m the wrong person,” he said. “What I stand for is such a disruption in the Washington establishment. ... I’m prepared to fight over the nature of America’s future. ... I believe what we need desperately in America today is captured in a simple Bible phrase: ‘Without vision the people perish,' ” he said.

After Gingrich returned to his front row seat in the gargantuan auditorium, pastor Mike Lewis led the congregation in prayer for Gingrich and his family.

Although the pastor said he couldn’t endorse any candidate, he also said, “Whoever you vote for, I think you will have to attest that there's a man who loves his country, who knows his country and regardless of who you vote for, he’s one of us.”

He continued, “If the wrong man goes into the White House, America as we know it will cease to be.”

Gingrich’s message seemed to resonate with many voters in the auditorium, although many had heard Rick Santorum speak the previous day.

“I thought he was spot on,” said Dan Delancey, a landscaper who said he wanted to vote for “the person who has the most Christian principles.”

Gingrich “knows where we’ve been, where we’re going, and where we need to go” -- and also has more experience than Santorum, Delancey said. “I’d vote for him without a doubt.”

alana.semuels@latimes.com

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