Newt Gingrich -– who is traveling around Florida by plane and was preceded on the stage by Michael Reagan and Herman Cain -- addressed a small but enthusiastic crowd at an airplane hangar at Tampa Jet Center. His campaign had curtained off two-thirds of the hangar, but the crowd didn't fill the remaining third.
He took the stage nearly two hours late, but offered no explanation-– ripping quickly into rival Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
Gingrich called Tuesday a "really, really big day" said a late poll has him tied with Romney at 35-35 -– but didn't name the poll. (Here's the poll, according to his campaign, from the Fort Myers News-Press.) He said he's still fighting after reports of his campaign's demise last summer and a well-financed, well-organized Romney assault. He said Romney has "spent $17.5 million on falsehoods.”
He closed with an appeal for help.
"We really need your help: We need you on Facebook, we need you Twittering, if that's what you do, we need you on e-mail," he said. "We need you calling people, and, to show I'm old-fashioned, we need you talking face to face..."
Gingrich said he's carrying the conservative banner.
"We have a pretty good understanding of what we stand for, the declaration of independence, the Constitution, the Federalist papers.... Limited, effective government...judges who obey the Constitution.
"With your help we're going to win a great victory tomorrow and send a great signal to George Soros, Goldman Sachs...money power can't buy people power."
He said Obama's re-election would "permanently weaken" the U.S. and that he's best prepared to defeat him because of his conservatism and debating skills. And he assailed what he called Obama's "attacks on religion," referencing the healthcare rules regarding contraception for religious institutions.
Gingrich also said Romney has a similar record and accused Romney on imposing regulations on Catholic churches and of cutting off kosher meals for Jewish patients on Medicare "to save $5 a day."
"We need a government that respects our religion," he said, adding that he's tired of being told he has to respect other religions. He said Soros -– the liberal financier -– was quoted in a "European"publication over the weekend as saying that "There's really no difference between Obama and Romney; I'm comfortable with either one. Now, Gingrich that would be real change."
"George Soros is right. I am real change, that's why the establishment is terrified. We will change things."
He singled out as an example of American ingenuity a guy in the audience who had made a poster with pictures of Obama and Romney with the caption: "Mitt no mistake: Obamacare is Romneycare."
"I love people power, not money power and I think people power will win," Gingrich said.
He also repeated his call to replace Florida Sen. Bill Nelson "with a conservative."
He vowed his first days in office to scrap Obama's "czars," repeal Obama’s healthcare legislation, Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley "and that's just for openers." He repeated his pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel, says he'd authorize the building of the Keystone pipeline.
And he raised the "challenge of radical muslims" and said the administration "refuses to talk honestly about the threat." Gingrich said he wouldn't allow Sharia law in us courts -– a favorite conservative rallying cry.
The audience was packed with Gingrich fans -– including Stephen VanderGast, 37, of Valrico, who brought his 4-year-old sons, Samuel and Ian. They carried handmade "Future Astronauts for Newt"signs.
"He's the best candidate to take on Obama -- he's brilliant,” said VanderGast, who said he'd admired Gingrich since his days as House Speaker. He said he's "cautiously optimistic" about a Gingrich victory in Florida, but would urge the candidate to keep going.
"The more he stays and makes his point, articulates his message, the more people will respond," VanderGast said.