Newt Gingrich really wants to go to the moon - and to Mars. And he would give statehood to a space colony, if it had a big enough population.
But before a I get to that, a quick note about Gingrich's crowds in Florida: They are enormous and they are enthusiastic. In fact, Gingrich is attracting bigger, more energetic crowds here in Florida than I have seen gathered for any of the candidates in any of the other states so far.
Ok. Back to space. Speaking to a yet another massive crowd in Cocoa Beach, on Florida's space coast, Gingrich ditched his stump speech and offered his vision of an ambitious new space program. "By the end of my second term," Gingrich said, prompting the crowd to erupt in applause, "we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American."
And he was just getting started; by 2020, he said, there would be regular flights to Mars.
"I am sick of being told we have to be timid and I'm sick of being told we have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old, Gingrich said.
Reminding the crowd that Romney had made fun of his plans for lunar colonies, Gingrich said there is something Romney's researchers haven't found yet, something he referred to as "the weirdest thing I've ever done": When he was in the House, he authored a bill that would allow a lunar colony to apply for statehood once it reached 13,000 residents.
I met a gentleman in the audience who told me he had worked on Gingrich's Congressional staff and helped with the bill, which was called a Northwest Territory Ordinance for Space. The man told me the bill would have allowed space colonies with over 20,000 people to apply for recognition as a US territory.
In fact, after his speech a reporter asked when the lunar primary would be, and Gingrich said jokingly [I think!] that it would be one of the later primaries.
As Gingrich presented his bold vision for space, he said his plans are another in a long line of great American ideas. In so doing, perhaps he was embracing the epithet that has so often been hurled at him, that he is "grandiose."
"I accept the charge that I am American and Americans are instinctively grandiose because we believe in a bigger future," he said.
Crowds here in Coco Beach seemed to agree.