Herman Cain shot to the top of the GOP presidential race for a time on the strength of one numeral said thrice: 9-9-9. Now, the man Cain endorsed after leaving the race is trying to grab the lead for a third time with his own triple-digit number: $2.50.
Newt Gingrich is not talking taxes with his number, but rather the price of a gallon of gasoline. If his swing through Georgia this week is any evidence, the former House speaker is staking his candidacy not only on a victory in our delegate-rich state come Tuesday. He’s also betting on the idea that he can win here and beyond by taking an increasingly brutal fact of everyday American life and wrapping around it elements of many national and geopolitical challenges we face.
Thus, Gingrich told crowds in Dalton and Rome on Tuesday that $2.50-a-gallon gas is:
In an interview Wednesday at the state Capitol, Gingrich even cast cheaper energy as part of the solution to the housing crisis: “Frankly, lowering the price of gasoline and accelerating economic growth would give people more money to pay their mortgages,” he said. “Five- or six-dollar-a-gallon gasoline is going to put real pressure on families that are at the margin.”
Gingrich said oil experts gave him the figure — which he often pegs between $2 and $2.50 a gallon — as what’s needed to “sustain the capital expenses required” for the deeper and more difficult drilling needed to reach an estimated 1.4 trillion barrels of oil.
Lest you fail to see how $2.50 could become the populist sensation 9-9-9 was, Gingrich has connected the dots for you. He identified Obama’s 9-9-9 plan as “$9.99 a gallon for gasoline,” crediting an unnamed man in Nashville on Monday for making the comparison.
“If you’d like $2.50-a-gallon gas and [energy] independence, you vote for Newt,” Gingrich said at the Dalton rally. “If you want $9-a-gallon gas and dependence on the Saudis, you vote for Obama.”
To it all, add some quintessential Gingrich rhetoric about Obama’s “secretary of anti-energy,” Steven Chu, and “elitists” with “professional amnesia” about how recently gas prices were at $2.50 a gallon or lower who say “that’s just not possible.”
I don’t consider myself an elitist, but I did voice my own doubts in our interview about whether a president could really increase U.S. oil supplies enough to affect the world price of oil. Like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in a recent Republican Governors Association forum, Gingrich pointed to another fuel.
“Take a look at the price of natural gas,” he said, “which has collapsed, from about $8 [per million British thermal units] to about $3, and it’s on the way down to $2.50. And ask yourself, why has that happened? Well, it’s happened because new technology has enabled people on private land to open up huge reserves of natural gas. The government couldn’t stop it. . . . If flooding the market with natural gas works, why would flooding the market with oil not work?”
The only things standing in the way, he argued, are “liberals [who] are in a state of great crisis, because all of a sudden there is going to be an abundance of natural gas, and … they’re desperately trying to find a way to close it down, because it threatens their entire world view.”
Back in 2008, liberals recognized the potency of gas prices: Obama even gave a speech that April at an Indianapolis service station advertising regular unleaded for $3.55 a gallon. (Enterprising folks at the Republican National Committee revisited that station and found the price is now $3.64.)
Back then, “drill, baby, drill!” helped spur John McCain to a late-summer lead in the polls. Then the financial crisis, and his panicky response to it, overwhelmed all else.
If Gingrich is to ride his own gas plan to the top, the ascent has to begin next week. $2.50 or bust.
– By Kyle Wingfield