Gingrich, Cain Rock Out in Tennessee

GOP hopeful plays big in the South, hopes it will be enough

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Chattanooga, Tenn. - Matt Brown wasn't able to play his guitar because there was no microphone stand for him in the air hangar in Chattanooga, but that didn't stop him from entertaining the crowd of a couple hundred people gathered to see GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Monday night.

[In Ohio, Rick Santorum's Downward Spin.]

He crooned several original and cover country ballads with a deep voice seemingly built for it over background music played on his iPod.

And though Brown says he plays for many local Republican events or birthday parties, the former House speaker who hails from neighboring Georgia holds a special place in his heart.

[See pictures of Super Tuesday voters heading to the polls.]

"My momma, who passed away back in 2010, was a big Newt supporter and Rush Limbaugh person. And of course Rush and Newt are friends, so I've been following Newt really since the late 80's," he says. "I believe he's got the experience more than any of the other ones. He knows how to deal with Congress. You know as speaker of the House you've got to learn how to do that."

Brown also thinks it's Gingrich and not his rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who will fare better in the fall against President Obama.

"I think that Newt as far as intelligence and the debate skills that he has, he can beat Barack Obama. I really believe he's the only one that can beat him out of all the candidates in the primary right now," Brown adds.

And it was only fitting that the enthusiastic crowd rocked out prior to the main event, because Gingrich and one of his top supporters, former candidate Herman Cain, were treated like rock stars when they took the stage.

In fact, in a curious turn, Gingrich himself served as a warm-up act of sorts for Cain, who arrived a bit late because he was stumping for Gingrich in Oklahoma.

"As we've gotten closer to the Georgia border, the crowds have gotten louder and rowdier," Gingrich observed.

The presidential hopeful pitched his plan on how he would lower gas prices to $2.50 a gallon – one largely panned by experts as having a short-term impact.

"I believe if we were to open up offshore and if we were to open up federal lands and if we were to modify the Environmental Protection Agency and replace it with an environmental solutions agency, and build new refineries, that I think we could in fact get to $2.50 a gallon, more or less," Gingrich said.

He mocked Obama for mentioning in a speech on energy the potential benefits of developing a biofuel from algae, though he noted he does believe in science and innovation.

"But I don't believe this summer if I were standing at a gas station in Chattanooga and somebody pulled in and the price was above $5 and I said, 'hi, would you like some algae?' I just don't think it would work," Gingrich said. "If you think algae will fix your gas problem you should vote for the president. And if you think drilling is more likely to solve your gas problem you should vote for Newt Gingrich."

When Cain arrived, Gingrich stepped aside. After plugging his old 9-9-9 tax plan, which he said he's still trying to get Gingrich to endorse, and his personal website, Cain took a dig at Romney. At a stop in Georgia on Sunday without naming names, Romney took a swipe at Gingrich for claiming to lower gas prices to $2.50.

"Mitt Romney said about the $2.50 a gallon gasoline program that Newt was pandering to the American people. Pandering! I have news for you, that's not pandering, that's showing true leadership because the American people do not need to pay more than $2.50 a gallon for gas," Cain said.

Gingrich ended the rally with a pitch for grassroots help.

"We can't raise the kind of money of that Mitt Romney can from Wall Street. But we can arouse people to use the Internet in effective ways," he said.

He'll likely need all the help he can get when 10 states take to the polls Tuesday. Gingrich is expected to win Georgia and not much else; though his campaign claims he is surging in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

As far as Brown is concerned, Gingrich and Cain live up to the hype surrounding them in the South.

"I'm going to get Newt to sign my guitar when it's all over with," he said. "I played for Herman Cain over the weekend when they were on the stump here in Chattanooga. I got him to sign it; he signed it, 'H. Cain 9-9-9.' It was so cool. He's very personable and a great, great guy."

Email: rmetzler@usnews.com

Twitter: @rebekahmetzler

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