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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Three times in this campaign, Newt Gingrich has soared in polls. Twice so far, he's come back to Earth. Yesterday, near Florida's Cape Canaveral, Gingrich aimed even higher - toward the moon.

Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Gingrich outlined his vision to a crowded hotel ballroom in Cocoa, not far from the Kennedy Space Center. He talked of coming of age at the time of Sputnik, the first satellite launched by the former Soviet Union, in 1957. He recalled reading science fiction, Isaac Asimov, and "Missiles and Rockets" magazine.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN SPEECH)

NEWT GINGRICH: So I come at space from a standpoint of a romantic belief that it really is part of our destiny. And it has been tragic to see what has happened to our space program over the last 30 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: What's happened to the space program includes the final space shuttle mission last year and with it, the end of any imminent manned space flight. It's meant the loss of jobs on the Space Coast, and a lack of a well-defined mission for NASA. But a President Gingrich promises to change all that.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN SPEECH)

GINGRICH: By the end of my second term...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: ...we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: Gingrich said he would encourage commercial activities in space, including science, tourism and manufacturing. And in just over eight years, he promises a rocket capable of reaching Mars. Gingrich gave no details on how much a re-energized space program might cost or how he proposes to pay for it, except to say commercial interests might be promised prizes in the billions of dollars for developing the hardware. He said his plan for what he called constant energetic and excited activities would draw people back to the Space Coast.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN SPEECH)

GINGRICH: Because it's exciting and it's dynamic, and who knows what next week is going to be like? And does that mean I'm a visionary? You betcha.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: At a later roundtable with business leaders and educators, former shuttle pilot Mike McCulley spoke. McCulley recalled that President George W. Bush outlined an ambitious space agenda, which went nowhere. President Obama has also proposed a program much like Gingrich's, that would use commercial rockets to carry cargo and crew to the International Space Station. McCulley says he might quibble with a few of Gingrich's details, but at least it's a vision.

MIKE MCCULLEY: It's been three or four major programs that have consumed enormous amounts of energy and money and time. And here we sit, eight years later, without a hell of a lot to show for it. I can say that now that I'm retired, of course.

NAYLOR: The former speaker's space plan is a classic Gingrich big idea. Whether he would be able to sell it to debt-weary taxpayers and Congress, to say nothing of whether it would succeed, can only be guessed. In unveiling it, Gingrich compared his plan to Lincoln proposing the Transcontinental Railroad, the Wright brothers, and President John Kennedy's challenge to land on the moon. In so doing, Gingrich revealed a bit about himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN SPEECH)

GINGRICH: You know, I was attacked the other night for being grandiose. I just want you to know, Lincoln standing at Council Bluffs was grandiose. The Wright brothers going down to Kitty Hawk was grandiose. John F. Kennedy standing there saying, we'll get to the moon in eight years, was grandiose. I accept the charge that I am an American, and Americans are instinctively grandiose because we believe in a bigger future.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: Gingrich conceded that his rival Mitt Romney has made fun of his space ideas. But Gingrich says he is a romantic, while Romney only practical.

Brian Naylor, NPR News with the Gingrich campaign in Florida.

MONTAGNE: And there is a different kind of romance in the candidacy of Ron Paul. Polls put him in last place, though he has a devoted following with his opposition to wars abroad and the Federal Reserve at home.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Talking last night with NPR's Robert Siegel, Paul did not sound like a man about to drop out.

RON PAUL: I just think that this thing is so up and down. Romney was up for a long time; now, he's down. Gingrich was down at the bottom and now, he's up. How many have come and gone? One thing you can't say about my campaign - I don't come and go. All I do is add.

INSKEEP: On ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Robert asked if Ron Paul might run as a third-party candidate in the fall. Ron Paul did not rule this out, saying, quote: We have a few months to go before I need an answer to that.

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