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Republicans Running Away From Reformist Roots

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Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, accompanied by his wife Callista, speaks at a campaign town hall at the Art Trail Gallery, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, in Florence, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)  (AP Photo/David Goldman)

AIKEN, S.C. -- Listening to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich give his stump speech Tuesday night at a conservative confab, I was struck by how different his speech sounded from his memorable lines at the debates.  This was Gingrich at his wonky best, discussing health care reforms that he pioneered at the Center for Health Transformation.  He discussed the benefits of preventative medicine, throwing out ideas for offering poor Americans incentives for staying healthy as a way to lower spiraling medical costs.  It was so in the policy weeds that Rick Perry's son Griff, in attendance, tweeted: "I haven't been this bored since Microeconomic Theory 231."

His most effective line was when he said that President Obama wants to cut costs to the health care system, which would worsen the service, while he would offer visionary reforms to improve care.  Gingrich didn't sound at all like a small-government conservative, but a reform-oriented Republican, trying to come up with ideas to streamline government.  (Very Clinton-esque.)  His mostly-humorous idea to crack down on illegal immigration: Outsource the responsibilities of the federal government to FedEx, and have them send packages to all illegal immigrants with tracking devices.

Gingrich's panoply of ideas won over Anne Fulcher, who worked in the health care sector for over 30 years until she was laid off when the surgeon she worked for got sick. She is currently unemployed and doesn't have health insurance to pay her own health care costs.  Looking for work, she's now going back to college to get a degree in communications - and wants to become a health care lobbyist to "fix the system."

"I've been on the inside.  I'm one of the people who fell through the cracks," Fulcher said. "His speech made a big impact. The system is broken, and Gingrich offered ideas for reform."  She said she was probably voting for Gingrich, after hearing his detail-packed speech.

But at the debates, viewers haven't been seeing as much of these reformist ideas from Gingrich, or from any of the other Republican presidential candidates, when they're on center stage.  Instead, the message coming from all the presidential candidates has been centered on cutting spending and the role of the federal government at all costs.

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