Already under fire for labeling President Obama "the food-stamp president," Newt Gingrich on Thursday touched off further controversy for declaring he would visit the NAACP and explain to the organization why African-Americans should "not be satisfied with" food stamps.
The former House speaker's remarks came in the wake of Rick Santorum's earlier comment in which he appeared to single out African-Americans as recipients of federal aid -- a statement that an NAACP official declared "inaccurate and outrageous." Santorum has denied he was singling out blacks.
Gingrich, in a variation of a line he has used in other recent speeches, said in New Hampshire, "I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps."
"And I’ll go to them and explain a brand new Social Security opportunity for young people, which would be particularly good for African-American males because they are the group that gets the smallest return on Social Security because they have the shortest life span. And under Social Security today, you don’t build up an estate," Gingrich said.
The NAACP offered no immediate comment on the former House speaker's remarks. But on the website YourBlackWorld,com, political analyst and commentator Boyce Watkins wrote: "I’m not sure where Gingrich is getting his perception of the black experience in America. I’ve never asked for a welfare check in my life, and neither have most of my friends."
His comments also prompted the left-leaning Center for American Progress to write on its ThinkProgress blog: "Not only is his perception of food-stamp beneficiaries prejudicial, it’s false."
The center noted that whites comprise the majority of people who participate in the food-stamp program, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Most of the participants, it added, are also either children or senior citizens.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Thursday in response to the criticism: "Newt believes that every American should have the opportunity to earn a paycheck, rather than be given a food stamp, and he is prepared to make that case in every neighborhood to all groups of all backgrounds in America. Furthermore, this theme of taking the conservative message to every American -- including the NAACP -- has been a constant refrain during Newt's entire career."
Gingrich has actually tried in his recent comments invoking the NAACP to demonstate his commitment to reaching beyond traditional GOP groups to Democratic constituencies.
On Wednesday he said: "My goal is to create a very big coalition. If the NAACP invites me, I will come and speak. If the various Latino groups invite me, I will come and speak. If the construction unions get fed up enough over the [Keystone] pipeline and invite me, I will come and speak."
And last month in Columbia, S.C., for example, he said: "Outreach is when five white guys hold a meeting and then call you. Inclusion is when you’re in the meeting. And I can assure you precisely because we want to decentralize back home, we want to have people back home with a bigger responsibility, that’s why I’m asking you to be with me. I want every community in America to have a better future.
"And I will tell you, unlike some candidates, if the NAACP invites me to come to their annual convention, I’m going to come there and I’m going to invite them to join us in getting America back on the right track so every American can work."
Two Gingrich surrogates -- former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith and former Ohio Rep. Bob McEwen -- sought to make the case on Thursday that their onetime-House colleague would be a stronger candidate in a general election against Obama than Mitt Romney.
“You have to remember that in the Iowa caucus, 75 percent of the voters did not pick Romney," Smith told reporters in a conference call.
McEwen was even more blunt, saying of Romney: “I don’t know how a party can nominate a guy like that and expect to win.”
In a subsequent interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Gingrich lumped himself with Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in further distinguishing himself from Romney.
"Santorum and Perry and I all three represent an American conservatism that is dramatically different than a Massachusetts moderate," he said. "We all naturally have a similar reaction to Romney's policies ... We three would write a platform more conservative than the platform that Romney would want to write."
Rodney Hawkins contributed