SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Taking a swipe at rival Rick Santorum, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Friday said he would not "join the team" in Washington, a reference to the former senator from Pennsylvania’s statement that sometimes you have to “take one for the team” when working in government.
“Unlike Sen. Santorum, I'm not going to Washington to join the team,” Gingrich told a modest-sized crowd in Savannah. “I want to create a new team called the American people, who force dramatic, bold change on Washington. And I want to force Washington to decide: Do you want to be on the American people's team, or do you want to get fired and go home?"
Gingrich's assertion is a stretch of the facts in at least two respects: He led the Republican team as speaker of the House from 1995 to early 1999, during the Clinton administration, and he was also part of the establishment team. His stump speech regularly includes a reference to his successes with welfare-reform legislation and balancing the budget during that time, and he often points out that he had to work with President Clinton and the Democrats to get both measures passed.
Santorum has been attacked by his rivals since he acknowledged in a candidates’ debate on Feb. 22 that he supported President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education bill in order to be a team player.
Gingrich has been stumping across Georgia since Tuesday, throwing out the names of friends and former colleagues along the way, and trying to reconnect with voters in his former state. Since he left Congress in 1999, Gingrich has lived and worked in Washington as a consultant to businesses on public-policy issues.
The candidate also seemed to bend reality when he claimed on Friday to be "just a middle-class guy."
"When I ran, I lost twice, and I had to run three times. I’m just a middle-class guy. My dad was a career soldier," Gingrich told a crowd filled with several of his former constituents. He pointed out that without the help of the party leaders and the local women’s federation, he wouldn’t have been able to get elected. “If you’re rich enough, you can sort of buy stuff, but if you are a middle-class candidate you need all the help you can get.”
Though he came from a modest background, Gingrich is by now a very wealthy man, thanks to his consulting work. His 2010 tax returns show that he and his wife, Callista, made more than $3.1 million in income that year, most of it from Gingrich’s business.
Many of those in attendance at his rally outside the Chatham County Republican headquarters came out to see their former congressman. “Speaker Gingrich, I met you back in the '80s when you came and spoke at my high school, at Walton High School,” a woman told Gingrich after shaking his hand in the rope line. "It’s a pleasure to give you my support today."
Another man said he’d been waiting his entire life to tell Gingrich something. “We have your Snapper lawn mower,” he said, as the former speaker laughed. “My dad bought your lawn mower years ago. And I said, 'We have the presidential mower and it’s in our basement.' ”