Despite Cheesy Grits, Romney Still Not A Southern Candidate

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

After another Tuesday filled with Republican contests to find a Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney again amassed more delegates than any of his competitors.  As of early Wednesday, NBC placed Romney’s delegate haul for the evening at 42 delegates to Santorum’s 38.  The narrative will be that Mitt Romney lost the evening however, as the delegate front runner came in third in both the Alabama and Mississippi primaries.

Romney’s delegate advantage for the night came from healthy victories in Hawaii and American Samoa. While his third place finish in Alabama and Mississippi had him within a hair’s breadth of first place and a similar delegate allotment, it just seems strange that the “front runner” for the Republican nomination is having difficulty winning Southern votes.  The South, after all, is where the majority of electoral votes are generated for most Republican candidates in general elections.

Santorum and Gingrich are both claiming that Romney’s problem with Southerners is that he is not conservative enough.  Gingrich has for months used the power of branding in his language to label Romney a “Massachusetts Moderate”.  Yet with Gingrich and Santorum locked in to virtual ties for Southern voters, neither is in a rush to cede to the other to test the theory that “conservatives” who are not currently voting for Romney would coalesce around the last one of them who remains standing.

The word “conservative” seems to take on different definitions these days depending on who is using it.  In Southern primaries, it seems to be used as a proxy for evangelical Republicans.  While Romney’s differing stances on pro-life issues over the years is often cited as hesitancy for evangelicals to support him, there’s also the lingering but often unspoken issue that Mitt Romney is a Mormon.

Thankfully, Georgia State Representative Judy Manning did choose to speak of the issue while campaigning for Newt Gingrich in Iowa, saying she was “afraid” of his Mormon faith.  I say “thankfully” because, if you’re a Republican, Manning also gave a hint as to why Romney’s faith may not be an issue outside of Republican primary. 

Manning ended her off the cuff statement by saying being a Mormon was “better than being a Muslim.”  It should be noted that Democratic polling firm PPP polls released news Monday indicating that 52% of Mississippi Republicans and 45% of Alabama Republicans believe President Obama is a Muslim.  No polling was done to indicate how many of them thought being a Mormon was better than being a Muslim, so Rep. Manning’s comment will have to be used as a proxy for this group until scientific analysis can be accomplished.

Romney’s Southern problem is also likely one of perception.  Southerners are people that do not necessarily like to be talked down to as stereotypes.  We are a people that does not enjoy pointing out to well intentioned northerners that just because we talk slow does not mean that we think slow.

Yet Romney spent the week in Alabama and Mississippi publicly trying to learn to say “y’all”, and marveling over his “cheesy grits” he had for breakfast.  “Strange things are happening” to him he said. 

It was reminiscent of Georgia GOP candidate Guy Millner, a wealthy Atlanta businessman who took shots at both the U.S. Senate and Governor’s mansion.  Consultants decided he needed to be able to relate to folks in South Georgia on their level, and needed a different wardrobe than his customary business suits.  Thus, he did the natural thing one does when they want to dress like a farmer.  He is said to have gone to Neiman Marcus and purchased a lot of their flannel clothes that looked (to him) like they would fit in among the agrarian residents of South Georgia.  Let’s just say that folks who have dealt with the by-products of bulls their entire life knew how to evaluate the attempt to be “one of them.”

Romney, likewise, is receiving a similar treatment from Southerners.  He would do better to be the guy that “ain’t from around here” but knows how to orchestrate turnarounds, use the capitalist system to create jobs, and get government out of the way of the productive so that the economy can be fixed. 

An affinity for grits is not required to balance the budget, reform the tax code, or create a sensible energy policy.  To gain the trust of Southerners, it is much more important to be credible.  Instead of trying to be “one of us”, Romney needs to spend more time on telling us how we’ll be better off as a country with him as President.

20 comments

  1. drjay says:

    well before we elected a muslim to the white house in 08, i did say several times that i thought the narrative would be big love and secret underwear if the gop nominated romney–i guess i’m not sure if that’s still the case…

    • Cassandra says:

      WDC source and longtime Dem Al Eisle of The Hill thinks LDS will be a ‘big deal.”

      Really, anyone a’gin Mitt is going to bring it up, but the non-issue rings hollow under the Bell Curve of most voters.

      Quoting Bill Gates: “N O I S E”

  2. PchT says:

    Too much water under the bridge with Romney and southerners. It smacks of yet another carpet bagger who is going to come down here and tell us why we are wrong to disapprove of his moderate at best record.

    • elfiii says:

      “It smacks of yet another carpet bagger who is going to come down here and tell us why we are wrong to disapprove of his moderate at best record.”

      Preach it brother.

      • LoyaltyIsMyHonor says:

        Yep, because New Englanders love how the rest of the country tells us how we speak…give me a break. Just like Bush 1 and 2 coming to New England pretending like he was one of “us”

        Politics is so regional…..and because of it, Obama will win again.

        And the South will rejoice because at least we won’t have a President from the Northeast….Long live Judy Manning!!!!

  3. CobbGOPer says:

    But this raises all sorts of questions about the rest of the ticket.

    I believe Romney, bumped and bruised, will end up as the GOP nominee. But these poor showings in the South will absolutely necessitate the choice of a Southern conservative as VP. It’s the only way he’ll get evangelicals to come out for him. The question now is who will it be?

    Is it just me or is this race turning into the final season of West Wing?

    • Cassandra says:

      More at the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Titanic, or Wag the Dog.

      A lot of time yet, plenty of room for either world events (Iraq), scandal, or missteps to occur.

  4. Wiregrass Dawg says:

    “Southerners are people that do not necessarily like to be talked down to as stereotypes.” — That’s the money quote from your piece, Charlie.

    You gave the good example of Guy Milner as one who got it wrong. The best example of someone who got it right is Paul Coverdell. He was determined to be who he was. He wore a tie and white dress shirt while visiting peanut fields. He even had a quote when asked why he didn’t try to get more comfortable, “when things go wrong, people tend to look to the guy with a tie for leadership.”

    Paul Coverdell never tried to be something he wasn’t, and though he wasn’t immediately warmed-up to, and he had to win 4 elections in 1992, he eventually won enormous respect with his competence.

    A side note that also has relevance is the example Coverdell set in that election about bridging gaps. The Christian Coalition had really spooked the Ga GOP establishment (such as it was) from the 1988 debacle. Coverdell was considered the moderate in the GOP Senate primary, running against Bob Barr, John Knox, and Charles Tanksley. He managed to win in a runoff against Barr, I believe.

    In any case, for the general election against Wyche Fowler (who still hasn’t conceded, btw), Pat Gartland, the Georgia director of the Christian Coalition, was a tireless worker in support of Coverdell. It was quite a team, and Coverdell of course won the election and then went on to score nearly perfect scores in the CC ratings during his time in the Senate.

    Could be a lesson we should keep in mind relative to the Tea Party and Ron Paul.

  5. John Konop says:

    My take is Romney is hitting around his ceiling in the GOP base at a third. Santorum owns the social conservatives and it has always been a strong part of the GOP primary base voters. And he has a strong network, and with the current technology (facebook, email…..) it is very effective in a GOP primary without using much cash. And it is obvious if Newt was out, Santorum would win. All of the above, should make great TV ! The real question is what is a conservative?

    Is an aggressive foreign policy with no regard to how we pay for it fiscally conservative or liberal?

    Is making it harder for low income women to have the availability to birth control fiscally conservative or liberal?

    Is calling end of life directives, when knowing over 60% of healthcare is spent the last 6 months, a death panel fiscally conservative or liberal?

    Is calling Medicare Part D, an unpaid entitlement that alone will BK the country, legislation to be proud of fiscally liberal or conservative?

    The words conservative and liberal have been so perverted they are meaningless.

    • kyleinatl says:

      As has been said many times from commenters on this blog, there’s nothing conservative about social “conservatism”, or compassionate conservatism.

    • KD_fiscal conservative says:

      “Is an aggressive foreign policy with no regard to how we pay for it fiscally conservative or liberal? ”
      Frankly, I can deal with social pandering, but I think the uber-hawkish stance on foriegn policy this is the one issue that disturbs me the most about GOP’ers. They talk about war with Iran, but not ONCE have I hear a single GOP presidental candidate(other than RP) talk about American troop casualties that would result or how we can afford another $1 trillion war. If the policy object is to prevent Iran from going nuclear, every single step possible should be taken b/f even thinking about war, instead we have people who have never served, loosely talking about ordering our soilders to preemptively attack Iran, like its no big deal. Its actually pretty disgusting.

      • Harry says:

        It’s too bad my fellow fiscal/social conservatives can’t yet come to understand that foreign interventionism has not been a permanent solution in any country that we attempted to democratize. This has been true in every instance except World War II and South Korea. Certainly no Islamic nation will ever be persuaded to accept our value system.

        • KD_fiscal conservative says:

          “Nothing rallies the country behind a struggling Prez (temporarily) than a good war.”
          True, but there is little evidence that any war with Iran would be “good” in any way. If we bomb Irani suspected nuclear sites there is a 100% chance they WILL attack American/Israeli assets, and America would be have to take out the current regime, or risk looking weak which no Repub. president would ever risk. And soon enough, we’ll have an another unpopular war, 1000s of Americans lives lost and another trillion $$$ gone.

  6. saltycracker says:

    “Instead of trying to be “one of us”, Romney needs to spend more time on telling us how we’ll be better off as a country with him as President.”

    ’nuff said… with all the bullet points on the mess Obama is making to cripple and enable, Romney has abundant ammunition – latest: medicare costs to double & admin estimates on Obamacare way off due to accounting BS….

    If Romney tip toes to not offend anyone in the campaign and doesn’t address the issues head on (Bush was a wimp) then it will be a very frustrating campaign for the (R’s).

    Santorum is on a social reform crusade. That’s like putting a new roof on your home that’s being foreclosed next month. Suggestion, get current….

    Neither is making center pieces of addressing the major issues like tax reform, spending controls (% to GDP & deficiency), fraud in social programs, employee reductions and benefit overhaul, agency elimination, foreign aid and so on (pieces yes, but not inclusive center pieces).

  7. South Fulton Guy says:

    Bottom line Romney detractors, 4 more years of Obama or Mitt Romney. Do you really want to fall on your sword over not getting the ideal candidate?

  8. Harry says:

    Can someone explain why American Samoa with 70,000 people gets 9 delegates to the GOP convention? Or Guam with 160,000 people, also gets 9 delegates? In American Samoa’s case it’s 1 delegate per 7,800 population vs. Georgia’s 1 delegate per 132,000 population. Is American Samoa that much more Republican than Georgia?

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