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Newt Gingrich quotes Mark Twain: 'Reports of my campaign's death are exaggerated'(VIDEO)

Newt Gingrich, borrowing from Mark Twain at a Monitor breakfast on Monday, said his presidential campaign can recover from a rocky start. He frames himself as an idea man who can go toe to toe with Obama.

By Staff writer / May 23, 2011

Former House Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington DC, May 23.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor

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GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich at a Monitor breakfast on Monday said the rocky start to his race won’t put him on the sidelines.

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“I want to reassure you in the tradition of Mark Twain that the reports of my campaign’s death are highly exaggerated,” said the former House speaker.

Mr. Gingrich said that in his recent travels through the early-caucus state of Iowa he attracted large and enthusiastic crowds, most of whom apparently did not care that he had told David Gregory of “Meet the Press” that the voucher-like Medicare plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin was “right-wing social engineering.”

Gingrich came into the breakfast meeting with a “Newt 2012” handout outlining key policy positions for his campaign and ticked off a number of them as he framed himself as the candidate of specific ideas with a good chance to beat the GOP’s real adversary, Barack Obama.

“I have the ability to articulate large differences with President Obama and win the debates in 2012,” he said.

For instance, Gingrich said he favors a “Reagan-like” economic policy that includes a freeze in the current tax code so Bush-era tax cuts stay in place, an end to the capital gains tax, and an abolishment of the estate tax.

But the glitches that marked Gingrich’s recent appearances followed him in the form of continued questioning about what he really meant when he criticized Representative Ryan's plan, why his wife had at one point a $500,000 revolving charge fund at Tiffany’s, and whether his multiple marriages would be off-limits for questioning in coming months.

As to Medicare, Gingrich said his description of Ryan’s plan was a “wrong use of words.”

What he meant to say was that Americans should not be forced to accept any major change they do not support in the nation’s large social programs.

Politicians need to have a “conversation” with voters about Medicare’s financial problems, and how Democrats are not addressing it, said Gingrich.

“You have to win the argument that the Democrats are being fundamentally irresponsible and dishonest,” said Gingrich.

(Gingrich used the word “conversation” throughout the breakfast, which perhaps befits someone whose greatest political assets include volubility.)

As to his wife’s apparent large purchases of jewelry, Gingrich said he was “mystified” as to why this was a story. He has done well in the private sector, he said, hiring people and creating jobs, and the expense in question was in essence a no-interest charge that he paid off in full and on time. In a neat back flip, he attempted to turn the question to an answer about the state of America’s finances.

“If Obama followed our example, we’d be running a surplus and buying back debt from China,” said Gingrich.

As to his personal history, which includes multiple marriages and reports of infidelity, he said, “I’ve been very clear that I’ve made mistakes ... I ask [voters] to look at who I am today.”

Gingrich added that he has cast so many votes, conducted so many interviews, and written so many articles and books (24, by his count) that he will no longer answer “gotcha” questions based on something he said or wrote in the past.

“I’m not going to try to remember what paragraph seven of book 16 said,” he said.

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