Friday, Feb. 3, 2012 | 5:53 p.m.
With less than 24 hours to go before caucus time, Newt Gingrich stood in a Las Vegas bar and told voters not just why they should vote for him, but that if they voted for him he could win.
“Come join us,” Gingrich said. “Tell every friend you’ve got: You go to the caucus and speak up for a people’s campaign ... with your help, together, we will win the nomination and we will then win the election.”
Electability has been a recurring question, especially for Gingrich, who has trailed Romney by at least 20 points in the Nevada polls. In his past few campaign appearances, he has looked like he’s feeling the weight of those numbers.
But whether it was the excited fans, the professional lighting, the presence of his wife, Callista, or the mechanical bull — which he didn’t ride — 30 feet away, Gingrich appeared re-energized for the final campaign push — even joking with some supporters that they looked like they’d been in the bar “since last night.”
He was also more focused on Nevada than he had been earlier in the week.
He started with mining.
“(The president) also has an anti-mining policy, remember, when you talk about jobs in Nevada, mining is the No. 2 employer in Nevada,” Gingrich said. “You are a state in which the federal government owns approximately 85 percent of the soil ... the Bureau of Land Management is anti-farming, anti-agriculture and anti-development. It makes you wonder exactly who they think is going to pay their wages.”
He then moved on to energy.
“We need to have an honest, fundamental change in how we approach this,” Gingrich said. “You have an anti-energy president. If we create enough opportunities oil and gas and coal and the rest, and Nevada fuels solar and wind — I am for an all-source energy industry.”
And he wrapped up with a pitch for why Nevada voters ought to pay attention to the Keystone oil pipeline — which also got the biggest cheers (and not just from the strangely high turnout of Canadian observers in the audience who had come to watch a real American rally at a quintessentially American bar).
“This president in an utterly destructive move vetoed the Keystone pipeline ... I was yesterday at Xtreme Manufacturing ... they will actually make forklifts to be used in building the pipeline, so it directly relates to jobs in Las Vegas,” Gingrich said. “This is not some Midwestern problem.”
Gingrich’s substance and style seemed to appeal to the crowd at Stoney’s Rockin’ Country — an establishment owned by Sue Lowden, one of the more prominent Nevada Republicans to have endorsed him.
“He’s intelligent, he’s articulate, and he’s actually getting detailed in his plans,” said Rhonda Besanceney, an IT consultant from Las Vegas and Gingrich supporter. She said she thought Gingrich’s pitch on education — the candidate is proposing an unemployment system that requires people to take training courses to receive checks — is his best offer to Nevada voters.
“His only problem is his intelligence,” said Darwin Rockantansky, also a supporter. “They think he’s arrogant — the man is not arrogant, he’s accomplished ... his mind works at 200 mph while most people’s minds work at 12.”
While polls aren’t foolproof, it would take a lot for Gingrich to convert the positive energy he had at Stoney’s into a surprise sweep at the Saturday caucuses.
But a win isn’t the only way out of Nevada for Gingrich — even a strong showing could help him beat expectations and provide momentum to help him in future states. Even as he campaigns for Nevada votes, Gingrich’s primary focus is clearly on the general election.
“I want us to run an American campaign this fall,” he told voters.
One indicator that Gingrich, despite the poll numbers, isn’t out of this race yet is the attention the Romney campaign is still paying to him.
Romney commercials decrying Gingrich’s background consulting Freddie Mac and suggesting that a vote for Gingrich is essentially a vote for Obama are airing frequently on Nevada TV stations.
Romney’s campaign also trotted out prominent Nevada supporters to spread the message that “Newt Gingrich is an Unreliable Leader for Nevada.”