When voters in Michigan go the polls Tuesday, it's unlikely many will tick the box for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In part, that's because Gingrich has all but written off the state, leaving his opponents to fight over it.
In recent days, he's been focusing his attention on energy policy, promising that, if elected, he'd bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon. He links President Obama's energy policy, such as his recent decision to deny the permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, to today's high gas prices.
Most energy experts say the president has almost no power over the price of gas – that it's determined by world events and global markets; yet Gingrich tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that there are indeed ways for a president to affect gas prices.
"The president of the United States has enormous capacity to enable the increased production of American oil and American gas," he says. "By deregulation, by opening up the Gulf, by opening up fields in Alaska, by opening up federal lands."
"If the U.S. goes back to being the largest producer of oil in the world, it will almost certainly bring down the price of oil," Gingrich says.
Right now, domestic oil production is actually at an eight-year high, and the number of domestic oil sources is growing. Whether or not that's affecting prices at the pump, Gingrich credits the production bump to sources on private land in North Dakota as opposed to federal land, where he says production is down.
Been Down Before, But He's Not Out
Gingrich is hoping this focus on energy will return him to front-runner status in the GOP race for the party's presidential nomination.
"My goal is to come back, repeat what we did in South Carolina, win a number of states on Super Tuesday and, on a very positive basis built around energy and $2.50 a gallon gasoline, build a majority and start winning decisively," he says.
That's why his campaign skipped over Michigan, so don't count him out for the nomination, he warns.
"I was supposedly dead back in June and July, and by December — without having bought a single ad, just on the power of positive, big ideas — I was ahead," he says.
Texas and California have yet to weigh in, as well. Gingrich says Texas Gov. Rick Perry believes virtually all of the state's 155 delegates will go to him.
"And I think, we have a very real shot because of the way California's now apportioned," he adds.
Damning Rivals With Faint Endorsements
Some Republicans have urged Gingrich to drop out of the race for the good of the party. He's down in the national polls, and many so-called "establishment Republicans" don't believe he'll recover.
"These are exactly the people who said in June it was hopeless," Gingrich says. "This has been a very up-and-down race. There's not a single state where [Mitt] Romney's met expectations. He is the weakest front-runner in modern times."
In the bitter fight between the two candidates, Gingrich has made it clear he doesn't believe the former Massachusetts governor to be a true conservative. Yet Gingrich says he'll still endorse Romney – IF he doesn't win the nomination himself.
"None of us want to see Barack Obama re-elected," he says. "We think it would be a disaster for the country."
"Romney's certainly not a radical on the scale of Obama, so it's a comparative decision," Gingrich says. "I think Obama's a genuinely dangerous radical who's out of touch with reality and whose vision of the world is fundamentally false. So I would gladly support either [Rick] Santorum or Romney if the alternative was Barack Obama."
And if Gingrich didn't win the nomination this time around, would he run again? "I have no idea, it's a long way off," he says, quickly adding, "since I intend to be the nominee this time, it's a moot question."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
When voters in Michigan go to the polls on Tuesday, it's unlikely many will tick the box for Newt Gingrich, in part because Gingrich has all but written off the state and has left his opponents to fight over it.
In recent days, he's been focusing his attention on energy policy and has promised if elected, he'd bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon. We reached him on the line, and I first asked him why he wasn't competing in Michigan.
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, we made a decision that Michigan was going to be a fight between Santorum and Romney, and I wanted to focus on what comes after Michigan and Arizona. So we'll begin working Washington state, Oklahoma, Idaho. You know, we're laying out our particular rhythm of what we think will work.
RAZ: You vowed to take your campaign all the way to the convention. What is your strategy if you get there with just a handful of delegates? I mean, how would you get the nomination at that point?
GINGRICH: Well, I think, first of all, that the whole situation will clarify itself over time. You know, I was supposedly dead back in June and July. And by December, without having bought a single ad, just on the power of positive, big ideas, I was ahead by somewhere between 15 and 21 points in national polling.
And so my goal is to come back, repeat what we did in South Carolina, win a number of states on Super Tuesday. The two biggest states, Texas and California, don't occur till the end of May and the beginning of June. The governor of Texas believes that I will probably win virtually all the 155 delegates in Texas.
And I think we have a very real shot because of the way California's now apportioned that we could win a surprising number of delegates from California. So I think I'm very comfortable going all the way to Tampa.
RAZ: If you are, say, not the nominee, and let's say Mitt Romney is, could you foresee endorsing him, even campaigning for him?
GINGRICH: Of course. Look, I think compared to the re-election of Barack Obama, all of us are going to be on the same team. None of us want to see Barack Obama re-elected. We think it'll be a disaster for the country.
RAZ: But I mean, you've made it clear that you don't believe Mitt Romney is a true conservative.
GINGRICH: Yeah. But Romney is certainly not a radical on the scale of Obama. So it's a comparative decision. I think Obama is a genuinely dangerous radical who's out of touch with reality and whose vision of the world is fundamentally false. So I would gladly support either Santorum or Romney if the alternative was Barack Obama.
RAZ: Let me turn to energy policy now. Most energy experts say the president of the United States has very limited power over the price of gas, that it's determined by world events and global markets. So explain how you would lower the price to $2.50 a gallon.
GINGRICH: Well, it depends on whether you're talking about tomorrow morning or you're talking about over a three or four-year period. The president of the United States has enormous capacity to enable the increased production of American oil and American gas by deregulation, by opening up the Gulf, by opening up fields in Alaska, by opening up federal lands.
You know, 85 percent of the acreage offshore is currently unavailable for exploration. It's estimated that by simply permitting to go back to regular business in Gulf, you add 400,000 barrels a day to American supply. If you permit the development of known resources in Alaska, you add about a million, 200,000 barrels a day to American supply.
And that's without expanding in any significant way. And it's a basic fact of supply and demand. If the U.S. goes back to being the largest producer of oil in the world, it will almost certainly bring down the price of oil.
RAZ: Let me go back to the campaign trail for a moment. Some Republicans, as you know, I'm sure have experienced, have urged you to drop out of the race, they say for the good of the party. I mean, you're down, of course, in the national polls. That's a fact. Many so-called establishment Republicans don't believe you will recover. I know you have recovered in the past, but we're now getting pretty close to the wire. At what point do you reassess?
GINGRICH: These are exactly the people who said in June, it was hopeless. I became - I was the front-runner in December. You could've asked Romney why he didn't drop out. I was the front-runner again after South Carolina. This has been a very up-and-down race. There's not a single state where Romney's met expectations. He is the weakest front-runner in modern times despite outspending the rest of us by more than three to one.
He failed to knock me out in Florida, even though he spent five times as much money, 99 percent of it negatively. I still came in second. And, in fact, I carried North Florida. And I'm very proud of the fact that places I carry, Republican turnout is up; and the places he carries, Republican turnout is down. So I'm pretty happy to be doing what we're doing. I think my message of 2.50 a gallon gasoline is getting through.
RAZ: Do you think that the eventual Republican nominee will be able to defeat Barack Obama in November as it stands now?
GINGRICH: Oh, I think the Republican nominee will beat Barack Obama because I think five or $6 a gallon gasoline, a decaying economy, a $2 trillion deficit, a weak national policy, and apologizing for America across the world is not a very good model to run for election on.
RAZ: If you are not the nominee this time around, would you run again?
GINGRICH: I have no idea. It's a long way off. Since I intend to be the nominee this time, it's a moot question.
RAZ: Well, Speaker Gingrich, thank you so much for your time.
GINGRICH: Thank you. Enjoyed talking to you.
RAZ: And for more on Newt Gingrich's energy policy claims and the counterclaims, visit npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.