By Jesse Roman
SALEM — Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich sounded like a man preparing to make a presidential run when he took the stage last night at Salem State University.
Gingrich, who has been openly mulling a presidential bid, spoke on job creation, entitlement reform, his loathing of the Obama administration, and what the country needs to do to get back on track.
Gingrich stopped short of announcing a 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, saying only that he is looking at his finances and talking it over with his wife. President Obama, he said, is ripe to be beaten.
"I think there's a good possibility he will be a one-term president," Gingrich said in a brief press conference before his one-hour speech in Salem. "Republicans need to show what the clear alternative is — if we can nominate someone who has clarity and conviction, we will probably win. As Margaret Thatcher said, first you win the argument, then you win the vote."
Gingrich took his best shot last night in front of what was a supportive, however less-than-sellout, crowd at Salem State's O'Keefe Center.
The former speaker spent the bulk of his speech lobbying for the United States to return to what he called the "incentive-based economy" that existed prior to the sweeping social reforms of the 1960s.
"We didn't say go West or we'll punish you. That goes against the American model. In periods where we were incentive-oriented, we were the most productive society in history," he said. "We have a fairly long history of creating jobs. It's a pretty simple principle: Reward job creation, make it expensive not to create jobs. ... Giving people money for doing nothing is fundamentally dangerous, because it teaches them to do nothing."
Gingrich blasted Obama both before and during last night's speech for what he called his "extreme views" and his "anti-American energy policies."
Gingrich was particularly critical of a speech Obama gave on energy while in Brazil this month.
"The president goes to Brazil and says, 'I'm glad you're drilling offshore ... we want to be your best customer.' I thought no, what we want to do is create energy and jobs in the U.S. so Brazilians are our best customers," Gingrich said, drawing his first major applause of the night.
Earlier, during the press conference, Gingrich said that any speech on energy should always end with, "Therefore, we must use the maximum amount of American oil, American natural gas, coal and biofuel."
In response to an audience question about how Gingrich would balance his goal of relying more exclusively on U.S. energy reserves with environmental stewardship, Gingrich said wealth will enable more spending on and foster more care for the environment.
The crowd, which included local politicians such as Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and U.S. House candidate Bill Hudak, was receptive and attentive during the hourlong speech.
"I thought he was great; every word was great," said Danielle Freese, a Republican who traveled up from Boston for the speech. "If this continues, we will live in a world dominated by China while we fall farther behind."
"So many of his points I can't believe everyone doesn't agree with," Maureen Murray of Gloucester said.
Kosma Evangelidis, the chairman of the Peabody City Republican Committee, said he's convinced Gingrich will run for president.
"He won't need any on the job training when he becomes president," Evangelidis said.
The speech even may have produced at least one convert in a state that is about as Democratic as they come.
"From someone who usually but not always votes Democrat, I've never agreed with a Republican more than I have tonight," said one man who stepped up to the microphone during the brief question and answer period at the end of the speech.
The questions from the audience involved everything from energy to the environment to banking reform.
Just before end the program, Gingrich, true to what he had claimed a successful Republican presidential candidate must do, attempted to paint a stark contrast between his plan and the Obama administration.
"We can do one of two things: Roll up our sleeves and say, 'You tell me what to do,' or concede that America is over; that our grandchildren will live in a world dominated by the Chinese where we can never expect to be the dominant economy or society again," he said. "I believe that the gap (in choice) is that huge."