Newt Gingrich is believed to be the first presidential candidate to ever come through Newton County, but those who want to see him speak today are advised to arrive early.
Gingrich will speak at a public rally at 1:30 p.m., today at Peachtree Academy, 14101 U.S. Highway 278, Covington, but parking is limited and Covington Police Capt. Ken Malcom said attendees should plan to arrive early as traffic is expected to build up. Peachtree Owner Janice Van Ness said doors will open at 12:30 p.m.
The hour-long speech and meet-and-greet event will be held in the school's gym, which can hold about 300 people, Van Ness said. While some of the school's 150 students will be attending, Van Ness encouraged any interested people to attend and said room will be made for as many people as possible.
The event will be standing-room only, but some chairs will be provided for senior citizens.
U.S. Highway 278 is only two lanes wide at Peachtree Academy and residents who have to conduct business in that area between noon and 2 p.m. are encouraged to give themselves extra time, while other residents may want to avoid the area altogether.
Malcom said Covington police and Newton County sheriff's deputies will be working traffic. Van Ness said 15 to 20 local Republican party volunteers will also help direct parking and attendees and will place signs on the route leading to the school. Overflow parking is available at the church next door if needed, she said.
Gingrich will speak for about half an hour and will spend the remaining time shaking hands and talking with members of the public, said Bronwyn Jennings, the head of Newton County's Gingrich support base.
"People are very enthusiastic about Newt coming to Covington," said Jennings, who noted the vast majority of members of the local GOP support Gingrich. "It's particularly endearing to us that he picked Newton County; we expect a strong showing here."
Susan Myers, Gingrich's Southeast Communications Director, said Gingrich will focus almost exclusively on the high price of gasoline. His latest campaign pitch focuses on his plan to use domestic resources to drive pump prices down to $2.50 a gallon.
"Gas prices are so important to every consumer right now. If we don't fix our national energy policy we're going to go into another recession and Newt is very aware of that," Myers said Monday. "The price of gas is not only a geopolitical problem, it's a pocketbook problem. That's why he's focusing on that like a laser."
She said Gingrich was the most qualified candidate to speak about economics and noted the U.S. economy had one of its prosperous runs while Gingrich was speaker of the house.
"He worked hand in hand with Bill Clinton as president to make it a very good time for all of us. Just think of what he could do if he was president of the United States. Newt did it before and he can do it again."
Longtime local Democratic leaders Charles Woods said he couldn't ever remember a Democratic candidate coming to Covington, but he didn't miss an opportunity to take a shot at Gingrich and the opposite party.
"I don't really consider him a major presidential candidate. He's a pygmy amongst the dwarves," Woods said Tuesday.
While Van Ness said she considers Gingrich visit a great opportunity for students and teachers to learn leadership from one of the country's great minds, Peachtree Academy will allow parents who don't want their children to hear Newt to be dismissed early Wednesday at 12:45 p.m.
"We felt this was a great opportunity for students and teachers to support what we preach, that leadership is a great character trait we want to develop in our students and inspire them to greatness," she said.