Some Sun City Hilton Head residents hoping to see Newt Gingrich during his visit Wednesday had to be turned away -- their 550-person capacity auditorium wasn't big enough to seat them all.
The doors to the gated, senior community's Magnolia Hall were opened so some could peer in from the lobby while others lined the back wall.
The presidential hopeful said the crowd was proof he is a contender, despite pundits who declared he had no chance soon after he announced his candidacy in May.
"For a campaign that was supposed to be dead, an amazing amount of people showed up," Gingrich said.
Gingrich, who has climbed just above 10 percent in recent national polls, spoke to the crowd flanked by panels displaying his "21st Century Contract With America," which was released last week.
The broad plan is a play on the 1994 "Contract With America" he co-wrote. That plan ushered in welfare reform and a balanced federal budget, among other legislative actions.
The new plan also includes regulatory reforms to stimulate job creation, such as reforming the Food and Drug Administration and replacing the Environmental Protection Agency. It emphasizes domestic energy production and offers an optional flat tax for Americans.
Gingrich said he also would sign "between 50 and 200 executive orders" immediately after his inauguration to kick off his legislative agenda. He will be collecting ideas for the contract and the executive orders over the next year from the public on his website, he said.
"People will be in no doubt about what I am going to do," Gingrich said.
Sun City Republican Club member Sherri Zedd, who served as Gingrich's legislative director during the first contract's release in 1994, credited him with helping Republicans win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives later that year after the GOP's "wandering in the wilderness."
Gingrich fielded questions from the crowd about how his experience as House speaker would help him lead the country. He also spoke of his ideas for Social Security and Medicare reform -- he favors a tax credit or a deduction for health insurance -- and his opinion on the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations: "I can't imagine a sadder commentary on the failure of the Obama presidency."
Sun City resident Kathy Mulligan praised his common-sense proposals and detailed answers.
"He is our last great hope," she said.
Gingrich's visit came on the heels of campaign stops in Columbia and an overnight stay at the Governor's Mansion at the invitation of Gov. Nikki Haley.
Later Tuesday, he and his wife, Callista, hosted a screening of their documentary "A City Upon a Hill" at Coligny Theatre on Hilton Head Island.
Gingrich emphasized his need for grassroots support in the lead-up to South Carolina's presidential primary, which the S.C. Republican Party recently moved to Jan. 21.
"I don't have the kind of money some of my friends have, but I have more than enough solutions," Gingrich said. "Looking at this crowd, I'm somewhat more optimistic about winning."
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.
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- GOP presidential hopefuls court Sen. Davis, Aug. 26, 2011
- At Bluffton gatherings, Bachmann urges voters to defeat Obama in 2012, April 16, 2011