Newt Gingrich holding an Etch-A-Sketch during a campaign stop at Big Al's… (Alana Semuels / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Houma, La. —
It was Newt Gingrich’s turn Thursday to mock Mitt Romney, brandishing a pink Etch-A-Sketch with “No Romney” printed on the back at a glorified photo op at Big Al’s Seafood Restaurant in Houma, La.
The toy, handed to him by conservative activist Jeff Giles (who is actually a Santorum supporter), has become the topic of various barbs against Romney after Romney campaign manager Eric Fehrnstrom told CNN, “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
Gingrich, never one to leave a stone unthrown, said to the small crowd munching on boiled crayfish and Po Boys, “If you’re serious about changing Washington, D.C., you can’t use an Etch-A-Sketch. You can’t have a child’s toy as a president. What you’ve got to have is a serious tough commitment that you’re wiling to fight. Because if you’re not prepared to fight, you’re not going to change anything, and that’s a fact.”
If Ron Paul or Rick Santorum’s campaign manager had made such a statement, Gingrich said, no one would believe it. But with Romney, “You have this over and over process where he’s pro-choice and he’s not pro-choice. Hes pro-gun-control and then he’s an NRA member.”
Gingrich, standing beside wife Callista, who was dressed in a canary yellow suit just a shade darker than her hair, then turned his attacks to President Obama’s energy policies, sure to be a popular subject in this town in gulf oil drilling country. Though Houma was one of the major centers of cleanup during the BP oil spill, most in the region are angling for more drilling to drive growth in the economy.
Gingrich mocked Obama’s announcement Thursday that he was expediting the completion of only part of the Keystone pipeline, calling it a “pipeline to nowhere,” criticized the president for supporting expensive solar and algae energy projects, and for his “hysteria” over drilling locations.
“I’m opposed to drilling in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon but that leaves us about 3 million square miles to work with,” he said.
He also rallied the crowd by accusing the president of driving down oil prices by asking for more production from the Saudis, rather than from local sources.
Gingrich’s solution? “An American energy plan designed to open up enough drilling of oil and gas to make us the No. 1 producer in the world so that no American president will ever bow to a Saudi king,” he said.
After a 10 minute speech – which is barely a sneeze in Gingrich speak – the former House speaker shook hands with a long line of supporters, and then posed with alligator heads, at one point feeding the Etch-A-Sketch to a bright green alligator jaw. He did not take media questions.
But Jeff Giles, the Etch-A-Sketch provider, took up the Romney criticism where the speaker left off.
We lost "last time because we’re too moderate,” said Giles, who was a delegate for McCain in 2008. “We need to be more conservative.”
If no candidate gets more than half of the votes in Louisiana on Saturday, the delegates will be determined in an April 28 caucus. Giles said he was hoping to rally more support for anybody but Romney before then. Of course, he’s trying to rally people for Santorum, not Gingrich, but he said the "Anybody But Romney" supporters aren’t going to let Romney’s victory in Illinois stop their momentum.
“This thing’s not going to be over til June or July,” he said.
Other voters bring that statement into question, though. Bonnie Cenac, a 71-year old housewife, said she headed to Big Al’s after getting a call 30 minutes before that Gingrich was going to be there. Although she’s a supporter, she didn’t even know he was coming to her hometown. Disorganization has plagued the Gingrich campaign from the outset, and some pundits say that the campaign, which didn’t get on the primary ballot in states such as Virginia, doesn’t have the juice to make it to the primary. A RNC rule requires that a candidate have a plurality of votes from five states before they can be considered for the nomination.
“If he drops out, I guess I’ll have to support Romney,” she said.
Newt Gingrich takes his turn with Etch-A-Sketch remarks