During Saturday's morning hours on the Treasure Coast of Florida, a crowd gathered around a perfectly manicured green at the PGA Center for Golf and Learning to hear from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – a presidential hopeful who kept mentioning another president.
"In the 1980s I worked with President Reagan," Gingrich said in the first few minutes of his speech.
"We passed a program that excited and aroused American entrepreneurs and American small businesses. And in the Reagan years, 16 million jobs were created."
A minute later, Gingrich added:
"In the 199Os, I was elected Speaker. We took up the Reagan playbook – lower taxes, less regulation, more American energy. The result? Eleven million new jobs in four years."
And again, "And so, I'm very proud to run on a Reagan-Gingrich record and to say, 'I want to be the best job-creation, paycheck president in American history.'"
While attempting to present himself as a true conservative, Gingrich has been blasted by Republican pundits as anything but.
Elliott Abrams, who served in the Reagan administration, claimed in the National Review that Gingrich may have voted with the president regularly, "but equally often spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan, his top aides, and his policies to defeat Communism," referring to strategies in dealing with the Soviet Union.
Gingrich's former sidekick and top lieutenant Tom DeLay told USA Today last week, "He (Gingrich) had to step down because conservative Republicans wouldn't vote for him again as speaker…because he's not really a conservative."
Gingrich's increased efforts to tie himself to the iconic Republican president come in the final days leading up to Florida's pivotal GOP primary on Jan. 31, and on the heels of growing criticism from conservative pundits.
"Right now Newt Gingrich's most ardent critics are conservative pundits and columnists," wrote Beth Fouhy in an Associated Press article last week. "To hear columnists Ann Coulter and Charles Krauthammer and the conservative media aggregator Matt Drudge tell it, Gingrich is an inconsistent conservative who didn't fully support President Ronald Reagan."
Gingrich tackled the criticism directly in Saturday's speech.
"Some fairly crazed people who are terrified I'll become the nominee have been writing some genuinely wacked-out things," Gingrich said, "some of which are that I didn't know Ronald Reagan, I wasn't involved in the Reagan years."
He went on to offer the testimony of Congressman Ben Gilman, who accompanied him, to any reporter who needed convincing: "He was chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, we worked together for years. He's prepared to talk to any reporter about how hard we worked."
Along with linking himself to Reagan's policies on Saturday, Gingrich also chose words that echoed the famous Reagan optimism: "My theory is you get a job, then you get a better job, then someday you own the job, that's the American dream."
James Campo of Stuart wore a Reagan t-shirt to the event. Asked if he saw any similarities between the late president and candidate Gingrich, he replied, "I see similarities in their ability to connect with people and to discredit what the media says."
The former speaker put the Reagan theme on the back burner during the middle of his speech, focusing instead on criticism of opponent Mitt Romney, and President Obama.
"All I'll say about Governor Romney is that while he was governor, he raised taxes, he imposed Romney-care, and the state of Massachusetts was third from the bottom in job creation."
And about Obama: "This is a man who has more methodically killed jobs than any president in modern times." As evidence, Gingrich cited Obama's recent veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline. "It would have created 20 to 50,000 construction jobs, and jobs processing oil for the next 50 years. You have to wonder, what was he thinking?"
The focus on jobs seemed to resonate with residents of the Treasure Coast – an area of Florida where unemployment is still above 10 percent. "I thought the speech was great," said John Bowman of Stuart. "I think Newt is focused on job creation while the other candidates are focused on other things."
Gingrich returned once more to the Reagan theme toward the end of his speech as he assured voters that the best way to create jobs, fix the housing problem, and reduce the price of gasoline was to defeat Barack Obama.
"You know, Ronald Reagan captured all this perfectly when he ran against Jimmy Carter. We had 10.8 percent unemployment, 13 percent inflation, 22 percent interest rates, and we were rationing gasoline every other day.
"And Reagan would say, 'When your brother-in-law is laid off, it's a recession. When you're unemployed, it's a depression. And when Jimmy Carter loses his job, it's a recovery.'
"This Fall, I may steal that and change the name."
A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Gingrich trailing Romney by 14 percentage points with 29 percent support among GOP primary voters in Florida. The gap has widened since last week when Romney was leading by nine points.