By John Whitesides
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Republican White House hopeful Newt Gingrich promised on Thursday to slash taxes, eliminate regulations and restore American competitiveness he said was stifled by President Barack Obama's "European socialism."
Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, said he will wage a philosophical and idea-oriented presidential campaign that will lead a Republican revival in 2012.
"Obama is going to fail," Gingrich told hundreds of Republican activists and officials at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, describing the president's motto as "borrow from the Chinese to pay the Brazilians."
Gingrich is the first of a handful of presidential hopefuls who will speak to the three-day conference, which is part pep rally and part strategy session as Republicans launch their race for the nomination to challenge Obama in 2012.
In a broad-ranging speech, Gingrich lashed out at activist judges, mocked Washington's reliance on regulation and handouts and said his first act as president would be to sign up to 200 executive orders based on ideas from the public.
"If we had the modern regulatory attitude in 1903 the Wright Brothers would never have been able to fly," he said.
He also promised to make current tax rates permanent, eliminate the capital gains tax and slash corporate taxes in an effort to lure capital back into the United States.
Gingrich was warmly received by the crowd in New Orleans just one week after the walkout of his entire senior staff over a disagreement in strategy. He gave a solid performance in Monday's debate in New Hampshire and says he will stay in the race.
The slow-starting Republican race for the right to challenge Obama has gathered momentum in the last month and will get a new candidate next week when former U.S. envoy to China Jon Huntsman is scheduled to launch his campaign.
Several of the Republican hopefuls will address the gathering on Friday -- Representatives Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, former Senator Rick Santorum and former pizza executive Herman Cain. A possible contender, Texas Governor Rick Perry, will speak on Saturday.
Huntsman canceled a scheduled appearance at the conference because of illness. Two other top-tier contenders, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, skipped the conference entirely, as did potential candidate Sarah Palin.
Perry is one of several Republicans still considering getting in the race in response to complaints from some in the party about the weakness of the field.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)