Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich met with Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa during a stop in Staten Island Saturday, and while Ragusa heaped glowing praise on the former House speaker, he stopped short of backing him.
Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman and House speaker in the early 1990s, vaulted past former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in national polls in recent weeks to claim the top spot among Republican primary voters.
Gingrich made an appearance at the Staten Island Hilton before a crowd of Tea Party voters.
New York is such a reliably Democratic state in presidential politics that candidates of both parties barely make any appearances here except for raising funds from deep-pocketed city residents.
The last time a Republican presidential contender won the state’s electoral votes was Ronald Reagan in 1984.
“I am extremely pleased Newt Gingrich took time out to talk with me and some of my Queens leadership team to discuss his plans,” Ragusa said in a statement Monday. “Clearly the speaker appreciates the important role Queens continues to play, and he demonstrated a keen knowledge of the concerns of Queens’ voters.
“Newt Gingrich is a strong and very impressive candidate and is someone I think the American people would have great confidence in when it comes time to turn around our failing economy and put America back on the right track.”
Gingrich’s visit to the city came a week after City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) was selected to head Romney’s campaign in the city.
Queens GOP spokesman Robert Hornak said Ragusa has not backed a candidate for president yet.
“This is not an endorsement and there’s no final decision made,” Hornak said.
But a source familiar with Ragusa’s thinking said, “Phil is leaning toward Gingrich.”
Ragusa said Gingrich has “an incredible command of the issues.
“Even former President Clinton described Speaker Gingrich as a problem solver and the thought of him debating Obama is almost irresistible,” he said. “One thing is clear — a mere month to go before the Iowa caucus, the field is thinning and Newt Gingrich is demonstrating his experience and intellectual vigor. I look forward to discussing the Republican slate with my leadership in the coming week. It is great that we have such a strong field!”
The state’s presidential primary is scheduled for April 24.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.
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