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Gingrich: Romney not sole GOP opponent

US Republican presidential hopeful former House Speaker Newt

US Republican presidential hopeful former House Speaker Newt Gingrich smiles before addressing the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington. (October 7, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

On a day when Herman Cain suspended his candidacy, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich acted very much like the Republican nominee at a campaign stop on Staten Island Saturday.

Appearing at a tea party event, Gingrich did not mention former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who trails him in the latest polls. Instead he chose to focus on incumbent Barack Obama.

Looking ahead to the general election, Gingrich said he would challenge Obama to seven Lincoln-Douglas style three-hour debates. If rebuffed, Gingrich told hundreds of Republicans and tea party members at the Hilton Garden Inn, he would show up at every Obama campaign stop and address the president's remarks within four hours.

Despite declaring Thursday in Iowa that he would win the Republican nomination, Gingrich was more circumspect about the GOP race when he spoke to reporters before the event. He downplayed the notion that Cain's departure makes the race a two-person contest between himself and Romney and would not discount other GOP hopefuls.

"I was supposedly dead in June or July and apparently [I'm] not," Gingrich said, referring to the summer defection of campaign staff and his low poll numbers. "There could be two or three more cycles left before it's decided who'll be in the final round" of the GOP race, he said.

Cain's campaign suspension amid allegations of sexual misconduct is the latest chapter in the crowded Republican field.

Gingrich praised Cain "for having the courage to run and for having the courage to have big ideas."

Campaign consultant Rob Ryan, who served as spokesman for Republican congressional candidate Randy Altschuler last year and for Republican Suffolk County executive candidate Angie Carpenter this year, said Cain's supporters were likely to go to Gingrich, who seeks to be the conservative alternative to Romney.

Still, Ryan said, given a campaign in which candidates have peaked and imploded, "there's no telling what's going to happen."

Gingrich said that as House speaker he had a record of boosting the economy and a solid conservative voting history.

Speaking before a largely friendly audience -- save for three Occupy Staten Island members who briefly disrupted the tea party event chanting "We are the 99 percent" -- Gingrich criticized Obama's comments last week that his administration has been a friend to Israel. Gingrich blamed the election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on Obama.

Gingrich blamed Obama for the economic downturn and said he would exempt money spent on business improvements from taxes, and make the Environmental Protection Agency more business friendly.

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