Several hundred people crowded around the entrance to the Jacksonville Landing on Thursday afternoon to hear the man who is surging to the top of the Republican presidential polls speak.
Newt Gingrich was the guest of the First Coast Tea Party as a just-released Fox News poll shows the former House Speaker has moved to the front of the race for the 2012 Republican nomination and as the national media is reporting he was paid at least $1.6 million for consulting work by housing giant Freddie Mac after he resigned from the House in 1998.
Gingrich said he did no lobbying or influence peddling for the federally backed mortgage agency, adding he welcomes media scrutiny on the subject.
"The next three weeks, I predict to you, we'll have all sorts of questions about it. And it's fine," Gingrich said. "You cannot ask the people of the United States to loan you the most powerful governmental job in the world, particularly when the campaign is promising very dramatic change, and not have them vet you carefully and fully."
At the town hall-style meeting, Gingrich was asked what he would do about media bias against Republicans. Gingrich said that while he welcomes the tough news converge that accompanies his rise in the polls, he doesn't expect the national media to treat him or other conservatives fairly.
Asked about the occupy movement that has swept the country in recent weeks, Gingrich said he shares their anger about the bailout of Wall Street firms and large banks, but thinks the target of their protests should be the federal government.
"I think it's reasonable for Americans to be angry, but I would say to them, 'Why don't you go to the Federal Reserve building, why don't you go to the U.S. Treasury, why don't you go to Chris Dodd and Barney Frank?'"
After the free, public event, Gingrich left without answering reporters' questions.
Herman Cain, who was the last person to surpass Mitt Romney at the top of Republican polls, is due in Jacksonville on Friday evening at the ticketed Stand Up For America event at the Times-Union Center presented by WOKV radio that also features GOP consultant Karl Rove and radio personalities Neal Boortz, Jamie Dupree and Andy Dean.