Huntsville, Ala. -- If Newt Gingrich prides himself in being a candidate of big ideas, no idea of his was bigger and more cynically received than his Florida speech calling for a colony on the moon.
But on Super Tuesday, the candidate doubled down on his commitment to that dream, holding a rally in Alabama at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, where he began by addressing the chorus of criticism regarding his vision for space exploration.
"One of things I got lampooned for, I got on 'Saturday Night Live,' I got in a little bit of an argument with (Mitt) Romney and (Rick) Santorum, I said we should have a very aggressive space program," Gingrich said. "I invite 'Saturday Night Live' to come here to Huntsville and film their skits."
The Huntsville center is widely known for its space camps for children. The candidate said Romney and Santorum assumed he was proposing that more federal money be spent on space research when in fact he was calling for private-public partnerships that would encourage productive innovation.
"America has a destiny in space," Gingrich declared. "It is a part of who we are. We are not going to back off from John Kennedy’s challenge and we are not going to go timidly into the night allowing the Chinese to dominate the future of space."
In contrast to the day-to-day wash of campaign backdrops, this particular location had the optics of conviction. Hanging in suspension above the audience, a giant space rocket; against one wall, a map entitled "Voyage to the Moon"; next to the stage, a replica of a lunar module; and in the center of it all, the candidate, addressing a crowd of approximately 650 enthusiastic supporters.
With so much visual material to work with, reporters happily tweeted photos from the event, which made news coverage of this particular Super Tuesday uniquely punctuated by images of spacecrafts and stars.
Spokesman R.C. Hammond demurred when confronted with the idea Gingrich's event was a publicity stunt.
"What is the difference between a publicity stunt and everything the campaign does every single day?" he asked.
Alabama is not a Super Tuesday state, but it does vote next week and is a part of Gingrich's southern strategy, made all the more critical after a decisive win in his home state of Georgia.
Gingrich predicted he was also going to do well Tuesday night in Tennessee and Oklahoma.
"With your help and a win next week, we could really be in a totally new race and I'm very excited about it," he said.