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Newt Gingrich addressed reporters and area residents during an afternoon town hall meeting at Derry Medical Center Wednesday. (CHELSEY POLLOCK)

Gingrich makes first trip to NH as presidential candidate

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made his first trip to New Hampshire as a presidential candidate Wednesday, explaining his 'clumsy' remarks about a Republican proposal to overhaul Medicare and at point saying a portion of the Obama health care plan is OK.

Gingrich played retail politics during the visit. He spoke to residents at the Derry Medical Center in the early afternoon and later attended a house party at the Manchester home of Ovide Lamontagne.

There, state Rep. Frank McCarthy said Gingrich was his candidate three weeks ago. But then Gingrich referred to Republican Chairman Paul Ryan's Medicare restructuring as 'right-wing social engineering' and radical change.

McCarthy asked Gingrich to explain himself.

'What I said was not very well said,' Gingrich said. 'There are times in life where you say something clumsy and don't really mean it.'

Gingrich said Ryan's proposal is the start of a conversation about Medicare restructuring, but warned that Republicans should be careful not to push something on Americans they don't understand.

Asked later by reporters if he supports the Ryan plan, Gingrich said 'we're a long way from a bill, we're a long way from hearings. Paul Ryan had the courage to start a conversation.'

McCarthy later said that Gingrich's response was not specific enough, and he remains uncommitted.

Another guest at Lamontagne's party, retired computer systems analyst Tony Howd, said the Medicare comments did not bother him, and he likes Gingrich's style.

'He's not afraid to be himself,' Howd said.

In Derry, much of the talk dealt with health care.

He slammed 'Obamacare' as corrupt and unconstitutional, knocking its similarities to the Massachusetts health care reform signed into law by then-Gov. Mitt Romney.

Romney leads most polls. In a poll released this week of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters, Romney led with 32 percent; Gingrich and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has not announced his candidacy, were tied for third at 6 percent.

Bedford resident Marc Murai pressed Gingrich on the positive aspects of the Obama health care law, specifically an uptick in previously uninsured young people getting insurance.

'What's bad about that?,' asked Murai, 42.

Gingrich said: 'If you take a 2,800-page bill, you can find 200 pages that are OK. The other 2,600 are a disaster and the parts that are OK, we can look at after we repeal Obamacare.'

Charlie Zoeller, 67, of Derry feared that a full repeal of the health law would transfer power from government to insurance companies.

Gingrich said that's not the goal, either.

'I'm not suggesting automatically that this group is good and that group is bad,' he said. 'I'm for much more local decision making that is at a doctor-patient level and not at a bureaucrat level, and that's the private bureaucrats and the public bureaucrats.'

Gingrich said he would propose a series of five tax reforms if elected - the elimination of the capital gains tax, reduction of the corporate tax rate to 12.5 percent, elimination of the 'death tax' and a tax exemption for business equipment purchases in a single year. He also said he would not raise taxes in 2013.

Gingrich said that his website is asking the public what executive orders they would like to see him implement. By October, he plans to release a list of executive orders he will sign after his inauguration if elected President.

In both events, Gingrich tried to explain his criticism of Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's Medicare overhaul and said a portion of the Obama health care plan was OK, and he backed away from his previous criticism of Ryan's Medicare restructuring plan.

'The election of 2012 is the most important election of our lifetime,' Gingrich said. 'Down the left-hand road lies a Washington bureaucracy running our lives in a corrupt system defined by politicians. Down our road lies the rebirth of freedom, the reassertion of the Constitution and the renewal of the American economy.

'The normal resiliency of the American economy is being held back by the destructive impact of big government,' he said. 'Instead of trying to create jobs with wasteful stimulus spending, we need a government that gets out of the way and allows the American people to create jobs and prosperity again.'

UNH students Nathan Ashton and Nick Murray, both 21 and from Dover, were among the youngest of Wednesday's attendees. Both said they are registered Republicans.

'It's still a little early, but I think we're the outliers for our age group because we're so interested,' said Murray. 'It's the beginning of the summer and I don't think people are paying attention yet.'

Murray asked Gingrich Wednesday how he would handle enforcement of marijuana laws that vary from state to state.

'I would enforce federal law,' he said. 'I would personally oppose a freeing up across the whole country of that kind of choice.'

Ken Smith, who supported Romney in 2008, said he tries to attend events as candidates come through New Hampshire. He is 71 and from Nashua.

'(Gingrich) seems to have some solutions and I heard him speak a few years ago,' said Smith. 'But they all sound about the same - 'repeal Obamacare, create jobs, balance the budget.''

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