ABC News’ Michael Falcone and Arlette Saenz report:
SARASOTA, Fla. — It was easy to see the symbols of Newt Gingrich’s momentum in the Republican presidential race: they filled three-quarters of a 27,000 square foot airplane hanger here on balmy Tuesday afternoon.
“You have to imagine looking out over this crowd and what it just does to make you feel good about Florida,” Gingrich told an estimated 2,500 people. “This crowd says a lot about this election.”
With a large American flag at his back, his campaign bus to his right, and President Obama’s State of the Union address just hours away, Gingrich said he would be happy to “suggest a few things that would improve the state of the union.”
“You always have to wonder after Obama speaks, which country he thinks he’s talking about,” Gingrich said, “you always have to wonder what his source material is.”
The former House Speaker who is giving rival Mitt Romney a stiff challenge in the Republican nominating contest spoke to a crowd of Floridians that far surpassed his next-largest event in Salem, N.H. earlier this month. And those who gathered at a private jet airport in Sarasota waited nearly 40 extra minutes to hear Gingrich who was running behind schedule on Tuesday. Many waved hand-held flags and chanted, “Newt! Newt! Newt!”
What they got was the candidate’s own preview of the State of the Union address, which Gingrich said would show the president was living on “Planet Obama.”
“He doesn’t seem to operate on the same planet you and I do,” Gingrich joked.
“Tonight the president will explain that was all George W. Bush’s fault,” Gingrich said predicting Obama’s explanation for the country’s economic slump. “This is the fourth year of his presidency. He needs to get over it.”
Gingrich spent the day making his way down the western coast of Florida — an important region in his quest to overtake Romney. A win here would give him the unmistakable upper hand heading into the rest of the primary season. But apart from a few passing references to the former Massachusetts governor, Gingrich focused on the president.
“I am for creating jobs, he is for getting people dependent on government. I am for the Declaration of Independence, he is for Saul Alinsky. I am for strength in foreign policy, he is for weakness in foreign policy,” Gingrich said of Obama. “I think it’s that big a gap.”