MACON, Ga. — Republican Newt Gingrich told a Georgia audience on Friday evening that the 2012 presidential election is the most consequential since the 1860 race that elected Abraham Lincoln to the White House and was soon followed by the Civil War.
Addressing the Georgia Republican Party's convention, Gingrich said the nation is at a crossroads and that the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama would lead to four more years of "radical left-wing values" that would drive the nation to ruin.
Gingrich also blasted Obama as "the most successful food stamp president in modern American history."
The former House speaker gave his speech at the end of a day of campaigning that took him from a gathering of economic conservatives in Washington to an old-style restaurant in Georgia and then the evening gathering of the party faithful.
Gingrich received a warm welcome at the GOP dinner. He represented Georgia in Congress for two decades and is stressing his ties anew after having lived in northern Virginia for more than a decade.
"I am glad to be home," Gingrich said Friday evening.
On economic issues, the 67-year-old Gingrich said his program would lead to more paychecks.
He outlined a jobs plan that would eliminate the estate and capital gains taxes and lower the corporate tax rate, which he said would infuse the nation's sputtering economy with new investment.
He said the United States needs to reexamine its relationship with Pakistan after revelations that Osama bin Laden had been hiding out there for years as America poured billions of dollars in aid into the country.
"I was trying to figure out what the word ally meant," Gingrich said. "I know what the word sucker meant. How stupid do you think we are?"
Many dissatisfied with field
Some 45 percent of Republicans now say they're dissatisfied with the GOP candidates who have declared or are thought to be serious about running, up from 33 percent two months ago, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Just 41 percent are satisfied with the likely Republican field, down from 52 percent.
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Plenty are holding out for somebody else.
In North Carolina, retiree Robert Osborne is hoping New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will decide to run. In Indiana, farmer Brent Smith wishes Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour hadn't backed away. In Georgia, stock clerk Susan Demarest would love to see somebody more like Ronald Reagan.
Ohio's William Johnson just wants somebody who's not a "cold fish."
"I don't expect them to get up there and start doing karaoke, but we need somebody with a little more spunk," says the Columbus steelworker.
While the Republican roster of candidates is growing almost by the day — Ron Paul declared on Friday, and Mike Huckabee says he'll make an important announcement this weekend — satisfaction with the field appears to be shrinking.
The poll was conducted May 5-9 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. The survey included 378 Republicans, and that subset had a larger, 6.9 percentage point margin of error.
Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, who is viewed favorably by 72 percent of Republicans, has the highest rating of the lot.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2008, is viewed favorably by two-thirds of Republicans, as is Romney, who made a strong bid for the presidential nomination last time. Romney has all but announced this time; Palin is more of a question mark.
Gingrich quite popular
The only other major Republican with a favorability rating above 50 percent in the poll was Gingrich, who didn't enter the presidential race until the week after the poll was conducted. His favorability rating was 61 percent.
Forty-five percent viewed businessman and TV celebrity Donald Trump, another potential candidate, favorably compared to 50 percent who rated him unfavorably.
GOP favorability ratings for lesser-known Republicans asked about in the poll: former Texas Rep. Paul, 49 percent; Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota , 41 percent; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, 36 percent; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, 33 percent; Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 30 percent; former Utah Gov. and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, 20 percent.
In an interview with The Associated Press earlier Friday Gingrich said he's grown more mature since his days as House speaker, and before that, when he was often described as a bomb-throwing insurgent member of the House Republican minority.
He said it took him two years after taking the reins in Congress to learn that he had to re-calibrate his style and change his message.
And by then, he said, "the damage had been done."
"There are the things you want to say and what you need to say," Gingrich told The AP.
Some have questioned whether Gingrich — known for his combative style and what some consider over-the-top rhetoric — has the temperament and discipline to be president.
Last year, he suggested U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was a racist, said Obama is best understood by his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior," and argued that placing a mosque near ground zero in New York City was akin to placing a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.
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