JACKSON, Miss. — Meet the new Mitt Romney — the grit eatin’, critter stompin’, country music lovin’,y’all sayin’ presidential candidate.
It’s been a quick makeover, one that’s probably not going to stick around beyond Tuesday’s primaries in Mississippi and Alabama. But it’s been fun to watch the transformation, rolled out during a two-day, three-rally swing that look an awful lot like every other campaign event the ex-Massachusetts governor has had in recent months — save his conversion into an “unofficial Southerner.”
Entering the region as an underdog against Rick Santorum, Romney first deployed his Southern version during a Wednesday afternoon visit to Pascagoula, Miss., blending stump pitches on energy and the military with a shout-out to campaign aide Garrett Jackson, a 2009 Ole Miss grad, who he travels with “more than my wife.”
“He’s now turning me into an, I don’t know, an unofficial Southerner,” Romney said in front of several giant oil-drilling rig platforms sitting at the port. “I’m learning to say ‘y’all.’ I like grits. Things are, strange things, are happening to me.”
On cue, Romney kept the Southern shtick going Thursday morning at a town hall-style rally in Jackson, Miss. Standing next to Gov. Phil Bryant, a recent endorser who’s from one of the most conservative counties in the state, Romney opened with a local salute.
“The governor said I had to say it right: Mornin’ y’all. Good to be with you,” Romney bantered. “I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits. I’ll tell you! Delicious.”
In Birmingham, Ala., on Friday, Romney demonstrated his love for local tunes by scoring an endorsement and introduction from Alabama lead singer Randy Owen.
“I never am serious except today,” Owen told a crowd of several hundred packed into a Caterpillar wholesaler. A few minutes later, Romney implored Owen to sing “Sweet Home Alabama.” Owen obliged with the chorus, even though it’s a Lynyrd Skynyrd tune.
Romney campaign confidants say the Southern bit — mixed with substance on the economy and contrasting himself to President Barack Obama — will work to his advantage.
You know what? No. I hate it when politicos of any stripe who aren’t from the South and who would otherwise have no interest in our culture (there are exceptions to the rule, of course – like Ronald Reagan, who adored the South) come here and start trying to “adopt” our culture as if it’s something they would embrace if they weren’t running for political office. Most wouldn’t and don’t (see: Clinton, Hillary). It’s offensive and insulting, and assumes that most people in the South are going to fall for it just because you’ve eaten liver mush and a grits, kissed a baby’s face, toured a hard-hit manufacturing plant, shook the hand of a farmer and complimented his lovely wife. Just come down here, tell us what you’d like to do if elected President, be friendly, and stop pandering.
And then leave!*
*Sorry, my Southern hospitality has its limits!