EVERETT — Standing on the stage of Historic Everett Theatre, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Friday said President Barack Obama’s energy policies are fueling the escalation of gas prices and insisted his approach will drive the cost down to $2.50 a gallon.
Addressing a nearly packed house, Gingrich said he wants to increase production of oil to make the U.S. energy independent so “never again” does an American president have to “bow down” to a Saudi Arabian king.
Gingrich spent most of his 41-minute speech contrasting the energy policies he’d pursue with Obama’s policies. He disputed the president’s assertion earlier this week that the federal government can do little to bring a rapid drop in gas prices.
Gingrich said that, if elected, he would approve a proposed oil pipeline to carry Canadian oil produced from tar sands to refineries in Texas. He also would reopen offshore leases in the Gulf of Mexico for development and allow oil exploration in Alaska.
Added up, those opportunities could increase the U.S. supply by more than 2 million gallons a day.
“If we set our minds to it, by the end of this decade we’d be the largest oil producer in the world,” he said.
Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is locked in a battle for the Republican Party nomination with Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. While Gingrich once enjoyed front-runner status, he’s lagged far behind Santorum and Romney in recent weeks.
The Everett rally capped a two-day swing through Washington in advance of the state’s caucuses a week from today. Gingrich appealed to the audience to turn out to the caucuses and help him make a good showing in what will be the final political event before contests in 10 states on March 6, “Super Tuesday.”
“If you help us, we can do it,” he said.
Economic policy garnered only a few moments of the speech. Gingrich rattled off major tenets of his approach, including eliminating the capital gains tax, lowering the corporate tax rate and offering a 15 percent flat income tax as an alternative to the existing graduated system.
Gingrich also took aim at Obama for pushing policies that make the federal government more powerful and intrusive. He vowed to reverse that course.
“I’m here as the candidate of freedom, and Obama is the candidate of government coercion,” he said.
Gingrich, a historian, made note of his surroundings as the “oldest operating theater west of the Rockies” and claimed the last president to speak on its stage was Theodore Roosevelt.
He displayed his sense of humor by cracking a few jokes and praising the crowd for its enthusiastic laughter.
“This is our Friday night date, so we might as well have fun,” he said.
Toward the end, a man seated in the balcony heckled Gingrich. “You represent the 1 percent,” he shouted a couple times before leaving on his own.
After the brief interruption, Gingrich noted there didn’t seem to be any scientific evidence connecting “noise and intelligence.”
Following the address, Gingrich and his wife, Callista, signed autographs and posed for photos with dozens of people, including Ava Gardner of Everett.
“I want this man. I want to hire this man,” she said. “I have so much faith in him.
“He said it’s going to take a while to fix things because they’ve made a mess of it out there,” she said. “I know it won’t be done today. It won’t be done tomorrow. But, with him, it will be done.”
Gingrich, who spent Thursday in Eastern Washington, began Friday in Olympia, where he met with Republican state lawmakers. He then held a rally in Federal Way before traveling to Everett.
While in the state capital, the former Georgia lawmaker spoke with reporters briefly about the campaign that’s become a “much more complicated marathon than anybody would have guessed. You’re going to see it go on for a while.”
And he said he’s looking for a good showing in Washington’s caucuses, which are the final political event before Super Tuesday.
“We want to get enough votes to have delegates here,” he said. “We want to do well enough that people see that I’m genuinely competitive. Super Tuesday is going to be an important day.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.