WASHINGTON - A day after slashing his staff to save money and reorganizing his campaign around courting undecided convention delegates, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was back to sharing his "big ideas" in a speech Wednesday at Georgetown University.
Gingrich spoke about his plan to privatize Social Security after touching on topics including secularism, judicial power and domestic energy production. He took questions from four students, including one who said he worked at a janitor at his high school and found it demeaning. Gingrich has suggested putting poor children to work as school janitors.
"I'm sorry if you were offended," Gingrich told the student. "Both of my daughters worked as janitors at the local Baptist church. ... They thought work had inherent dignity."
The appearance was the first for Gingrich since his lagging campaign parted ways with a third of its staff. The former House speaker is vowing to stay in the race until front-runner Mitt Romney has enough convention delegates to clinch the nomination. In the meantime, he is spending less time in primary states and trying to persuade delegates to back him at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.
Romney is the leader with 568 delegates, based on a tally by The Associated Press. That is slightly less than half the needed 1,144, and more than four times as many delegates as Gingrich, who has 135.
Although the District of Columbia has its primary on Tuesday, with 16 delegates at stake, Gingrich's speech was not an attempt to court Republican voters in the nation's capital, which Romney is expected to win easily. It was open only to Georgetown students and staff.
Gingrich did not address his campaign woes directly. Speaking without notes, he referenced the Founding Fathers and the Wright brothers in explaining why he was motivated to run in the first place. And he said the United States should adopt the Chilean model of individual Social Security savings accounts.
"We are surrounded by a news media that is cynical and by consultants who are cynical, by lobbyists who are cynical. ... They think having big ideas is a waste of time," Gingrich said. "This is why I'm running. I haven't done a very good job as a candidate. It is so difficult to communicate big ideas to this country."
Joe Wiedemer, 20, a sophomore from Annapolis, Md., and a member of the College Republicans, said he appreciated Gingrich's remarks but conceded his candidacy was not viable.
"He has absolutely no chance. He will be out of the election as soon as he runs out of money," Wiedemer said. "But he represented the Republican Party well."
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