By DAVE NYCZEPIR
ANNAPOLIS (March 28, 2012)—One week before the state's primary elections, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich criticized Maryland lawmakers considering a statewide gas tax increase during a visit to Annapolis Tuesday morning.
Maryland's 37 delegates have grown in importance given frontrunner Mitt Romney's struggle to secure the GOP nomination.
Gingrich, who reportedly once owed Tiffany's jewelry company hundreds of thousands of dollars, also took the opportunity to speak with local business owner Delegate Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, at his jewelry store on Main Street, before grabbing lunch at Chick and Ruth's Delly.
Prior to that, Gingrich pitched part of his energy independence plan outside Maryland's State House.
"There is talk here about an increase in the gas tax for Maryland, which I think shows as much political insensitivity as you can imagine," Gingrich said. "Given everybody's concerns about the price of gasoline, to have an effort made to raise the gas prices 25 cents a gallon strikes me as being very, very, anti-every day, working American."
Gingrich said he plans to get the price of gas down to $2.50 a gallon or less as president, but it would always be higher in Maryland if the new gas tax bill passes, he said.
The bill's biggest proponent, Gov. Martin O'Malley, previously mocked Gingrich's plan for $2.50 gas on a February episode of "Face the Nation."
"Well, Newt Gingrich also has a plan to create moon colonies and lunar outposts within two years," O'Malley said, waving his hands.
O'Malley pointed out domestic oil production has increased every year under President Barack Obama, making the nation less dependent on foreign oil.
Maryland's transportation needs are pressing and the governor continues to move forward, said Takirra Winfield, his press secretary, referring to his proposed gas tax increase.
After witnessing students sing the state song, "Maryland, My Maryland," in the Senate, Gingrich praised those celebrating National School Choice Week in Annapolis.
School choice programs allow parents to select the school they feel is best for their child.
"That's one of the most important questions we have as a country, is how do we get effective education for all of our children, and school choice is a major component of it," Gingrich said.
Gingrich reiterated his commitment to a dynamic space program, in light of advancements in China's space research.
He wants to use government incentives to encourage the private sector to spend four or five times as much money on space as NASA.
As for his campaign, Gingrich said he'll remain in the race unless Romney secures a majority before the Utah primary June 26.
Should Romney attain the nomination before the process goes to an open convention, Gingrich said he would be delighted to back him against Obama in the national election.
While Gingrich said campaign money is tight, he felt his grassroots supporters wanted their values respected and that his message would prevail at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
"The question that we ask is who can best beat Barack Obama, and at that point I think most Republicans agree that I would probably do a better job debating Obama than any other candidate," Gingrich said. "And I think it becomes a very viable, very lively campaign."