ATLANTA — Newt Gingrich, campaigning at the state Capitol today, said he would deepen Savannah’s port if he’s elected president.
“I think it has to be done,” the Republican former House speaker said in an interview with the Athens Banner Herald. “You have the widening of the Panama Canal, which will be completed by 2014, and if you don’t appropriately expand the harbors, you can’t deal with the new, larger shipments, so it’s really very, very important.”
Gingrich said he would fund the $400 million project by authorizing offshore drilling for natural gas.
“The initial bids on the leased properties would more than pay for the port of Savannah,” he said.
Officials in both parties, from Gov. Nathan Deal to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, consider deepening the port to allow larger ships essential to the state’s economic growth. For example, construction equipment manufacture Caterpillar, which is building a $200 million plant in Bogart that will employ 1,400 people, plans to ship products overseas from the Savannah port.
Gingrich called the Caterpillar plant “a very positive development.”
“I’m sure (President Obama is) very excited about it, as I’m sure the governor is very excited about it,” he said.
Like Caterpillar, more manufacturers will be moving overseas factories back to the U.S. as domestic manufacturing becomes cheaper compared to China and Japan, Gingrich said. His proposal to allow manufacturers to write off 100 percent of new equipment’s value on their taxes the year they buy it would also boost manufacturing.
Gingrich is coming off third-place finishes in the Arizona and Michigan primaries, but he didn’t campaign in those states. Instead, he’s focusing on Super Tuesday primaries next week, particularly in Georgia and Tennessee.
Former Massachusetts Gov. beat former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in both primaries Tuesday.
“It’s a reminder of Romney’s general weakness that, even though he outspends the rest of us, and he’s able to sort of trudge along that, in what was called his home state, he dropped 10 percent from his vote in 2008, and he only managed to beat Santorum by being very negative, which is exactly the way he went after me in Florida,” Gingrich said, “We have no evidence yet that he has any positive message that can attract votes.”
Gingrich said he expects to compete in Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Vermont, Idaho, North Dakota and even Massachusetts, which awards delegates proportionally.
“I felt that Georgia was key,” he said. “I felt we have to win Georgia., and I increasingly think that’s likely, but we’ll campaign every day from now through Tuesday”
Gingrich also appeared with Deal, a fellow former Georgia congressman who endorsed him early on, and a group of state lawmakers. Deal credited Gingrich with reforming welfare and balancing the federal budget as House speaker.
“This is the kind of leadership the United States in the White House today,” Deal said.
Gingrich repeated his recent attacks on Obama’s foreign policy. He criticized the president for apologizing for a Feb. 21 incident in Afghanistan when American troops burned Qurans in a pile of trash, sparking protests and attacks that killed 30 people, including four soldiers. He also said the U.S. needs to rethink its relationship with Pakistan and pledged that his energy policy will lower the price of gas to $2.50 per gallon, a claim many experts dispute.