IOWA CITY — A discussion on brain science research at the University of Iowa got off to a rocky start Wednesday for Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
Protesters surprised the Gingrich camp at the Medical Education Research Facility, 375 Newton Rd. Dozens of demonstrators, intermingled in the crowded auditorium, called for a “mic check,” just as Gingrich began his speech.
At least four protesters were ejected from the auditorium, including 28-year-old Nate Adeyemi, a member of the Occupy Cedar Rapids movement.
Some in attendance shouted over the protesters, telling them they had their turn for free speech. It got fairly heated, but security quickly eliminated any chance of escalation.
“It was a mess. A total mess,” said Gingrich’s public relations specialist Gordon James.
Gingrich told the audience he was going to simply speak over the “one percent” who were drowning him out.
But he couldn’t resist responding when one person accused him of making millions of dollars on book deals and earning a “Ph.D. in cheating on your wives.”
“Other than personal hostility, how would you know anything about how I publish my books?” Gingrich retorted.
The remaining demonstrators, many with the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Occupy movements, eventually quieted down.
“It’s really really frustrating that we cannot sit down and have civil conversations about politics,” said Hannah Staley, a 19-year-old UI sophomore and English education major. “It has to be big interruptions and a big show,” she added.
During his speech, Gingrich touched on technology within the context of improving health advancements and took time to highlight the need to improve outcomes for Alzheimer’s, autism and Parkinson’s patients.
He made no mention of intensifying criticism from the rival campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
During a series of interviews while fundraising in New York on Wednesday, Romney told one media outlet that “zany is not what we need in a president” and another that Gingrich had “an extraordinary lack of understanding of how the economy works.”
After his speech, Gingrich, sought to stay above the fray.
“They should run their campaign the way they want to and we’re going to run our campaign the way we want to,” Gingrich told reporters. He did smile, briefly, when saying the campaign plans to have a new bus to match the other candidates for the final weeks in Iowa.
Outside of the building, a handful of protesting carolers sang about how the “Gingrinch” stole health care.
“To go back to a system that was flawed and broken is the wrong step,” said Cathy Glasson, who said she worked as a University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics nurse for more than 20 years, and now does nursing health care policy work.Gazette reporter Chris Earl and the Associated Press contributed to this report.