(CBS News) TAMPA, Fla. - Newt Gingrich the professor looks and sounds a lot like Newt Gingrich the Mitt Romney surrogate.
In the first of four installments of "Newt University" - the party favor Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Romney's campaign offered the former presidential candidate for the Republican National Convention this week - a lineup of speakers headlined by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker largely abandoned the event's policy frame in favor of boosting their party's ticket.
Monday's "lecture" was themed, "We Can Do Better," focused on jobs and the moment's hot-button topic, Medicare. While the former House Speaker dug up some old on-topic stump lines, his role was attack dog, supported by charts that laid out damning trends for president in "The Obama Job Depression," among others.
Walker, who was met with standing ovation from the crowd of several hundred, detailed the reforms he's put in place in Wisconsin since surviving a nasty recall election and continued grief from union workers for stripping them of collective bargaining rights.
"I laughed when, in the last year and a half, the left - particularly some of the big media bosses - said what we did was a shock," he said, mentioning to eruptions of applause his decision to take away teachers' seniority and tenure. "The shock was that we actually did what we said we were gonna do."
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But like the rest, Walker turned quickly to politics, declaring that he "already knew that Mitt Romney had the resume to be a great president." When Romney chose "my friend," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., he continued, "I knew he also has the courage and passion." As for Romney's private sector experience, often criticized on points ranging from his company's involvement in outsourcing to its record spackled with failed companies, "I never backed away from that" experience, Walker said.
And Gingrich himself was a praise line for many of the speakers. Speaking on behalf of the Kemp Foundation, James "Jimmy" Kemp (whose father, Jack Kemp, Gingrich cited as one of his great teachers) admiringly told a story of bakery workers who complained to him once that since Gingrich's reign as House Speaker, "now you've actually got to pay for your health insurance." Romney policy director Lanhee Chen hailed Gingrich as "a real innovator in our party for some time now."
Wrapping up the event, Gingrich announced that "well over a thousand people" watched the lecture at newtuniversity.com. Three more are scheduled for each remaining day of the convention, at 10 a.m. EST.