LAS VEGAS — Stoney’s Rockin’ Country dance hall is a place that celebrates defiance of long odds: Every night, inebriated non-cowboys climb up on a mechanical bull under the mistaken impression that they can hang on. On Thursday nights, they do it in bikinis.
On Friday — just a few feet away from the bull — it was Newt Gingrich confidently defying the near-inevitable.
Gingrich, trailing badly in Nevada polls, showed up to exhort his supporters before Saturday’s caucuses and promise a long battle for the GOP nomination.
“This is a campaign of people power,” Gingrich told a crowd of perhaps 200, “versus money power.”
Gingrich’s appearance at this country-music club was one of his few public events before the Nevada caucuses. He used it to attack former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — the front-runner in the state — as “Obama-lite.”
Romney, Gingrich said, is too moderate in his ideas and would not do enough to boost a shaky economy.
“Obama is big food stamp,” Gingrich said, leaving grammar behind in his fervor to tie Romney to President Obama. “He’s little food stamp.”
“I don’t think he understands the free market. He understands a lot about finance,” Gingrich said, but not small businesses.
The crowd was full of people who said they were unhappy with Romney and were considering Gingrich as an alternative. For some, the former House speaker’s big ideas were an exciting alternative to Romney’s caution.
“I’m ready to go to the moon!” said Chris Battle, 68, a retired shopkeeper from Florida who now lives in Las Vegas. She was referring to Gingrich’s campaign promise, made in Florida’s “Space Coast,” that he would establish a lunar colony. “I basically have liked everything I’ve heard. My only consideration is, what’s he going to say tomorrow?”
On the honky-tonk’s stage, Gingrich kept the ideas coming: He listed at least six orders he would sign on his first day as president, undoing legislation on health care and financial regulation, and moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
He said he could bring back $2 per-gallon gas. He could reform the tax code so that every American paid Romney’s 15 percent rate. He would break up mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And he also would force them to allow more Americans to refinance their homes at lower rates.
Gingrich said he was the only one who could do this, because he was the only candidate who could make American government work.
“Truth is, to actually get the American constitutional system to work is really complicated,” he said. The Founding Fathers had intended it that way, he said, to frustrate would-be dictators. “They succeeded so brilliantly, we can barely get it to work.”
He also promised to contest the Republican nomination until this summer’s convention in Tampa. Will that be enough to beat the odds and win in Nevada?
“I don’t think so,” said Gary George, a retired engineer, after Gingrich had finished. But, he said, “45 states to go.”