BURLINGAME Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich assailed President Barack Obama on gas prices and energy policies Saturday as he sought to fuel support among California Republicans.
"If you want $10-a-gallon gasoline, an anti-energy secretary and weakness requiring us to depend on foreigners for our energy, Barack Obama should be your candidate," the former House Speaker told a crowd during a luncheon at the California Republican Party's bi-annual convention.
Energy and gas prices have become a hot issue on the campaign trail amid rising prices at the pump. The average price of gas now at $3.58 a gallon has increased by 25 cents since the start of the New Year. Gas at a 76 station down the street from the convention site started at $4.49 a gallon.
Gingrich supporters attending the convention said focusing on an issue that resonates so strongly with voters will help improve the candidate's standing in California, where a recent poll showed him trailing rivals Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul with just 12 percent support.
Mario Rodriguez, who is serving as a national co-chair for Gingrich's Latino voter outreach efforts, said his own experience spending $92 to fill up his tank Saturday morning underscores the relevance of the issue.
"I can afford it, but I just go back and think about millions and millions of people that can't afford that," he said after the speech. "We've got to do something. It's a serious problem."
Gingrich, who rolled out a pledge to drop gas prices to $2.50 a gallon earlier this week, spent much of the appearance hammering a recent speech on energy Obama delivered at the University of Miami. In it, the Democratic president dismissed calls to focus on expanding drilling, saying the country "can't just drill our way to lower gas prices." Instead, Obama said his administration is pursuing an "all-of-the-above strategy" on energy that includes solar, wind, gas and oil power.
Gingrich criticized the speech as "factually false, intellectually incoherent, deeply conflicting in policy and in some places, just strange."
The former House Speaker touted expanding reliance on drilling on U.S. soil and off the coast as a way to reduce reliance on foreign energy sources and lower the cost of fuel for Americans.
He did not directly call on California to expand drilling off its coast, but said he thinks "each state has to make its own decision." He added, however, that under his proposal to give states 50 percent of the royalties from the arrangement "Sacramento would start thinking seriously" about the issue.
Gingrich said his energy policy includes upping domestic oil production and greenlighting the Keystone Pipeline XL project, as a way to reduce reliance on foreign energy sources and lower the cost of fuel for Americans. He said his proposals will cut back on regulations and lead to more economic growth.
Absent from the speech were mentions of his GOP primary opponents, who are campaigning elsewhere this weekend ahead of Tuesday elections in Arizona and Michigan.
Gingrich, who has suffered losses in recent primary contests, said he came to the state GOP convention to demonstrate his commitment to building a national campaign.
The $100-a-plate luncheon, which also featured former presidential candidate Herman Cain and talk radio host Michael Reagan, attracted a crowd that filled the Hyatt Regency ballroom.
Cain, who dropped out of the race in December, fired up the several hundred delegates attending the lunch. The former Godfather's Pizza CEO said Gingrich's "bold leadership" will deliver a victory for Republicans in November.
The other Republican candidates, who declined invitations to speak, also had a presence at the three-day convention. Paul supporters sported "Rally for Liberty" T-shirts, and several Santorum signs were spotted on the hotel walls.
Romney supporters staffed a volunteer table throughout the weekend, making their case to delegates that the former Massachusetts governor, who is on top in California polls, has the best chance of beating Obama.
Beni Agoustari, a Romney volunteer from Mill Valley, said while a "gut feeling may say Newt knows how to speak and argue (and) Santorum has family values," Romney's business experience and positions on the economy make him the smartest pick.
"When it comes to election time, you have to be able to pull the moderates."
Gingrich said that the fight for the nomination is far from over.
That, he said, means California Republicans going to the polls June 5 will play a pivotal role in choosing the GOP presidential candidate.
"There will not be any lockdown before we get to California," he said. "This will still be a very important campaign."