Campaign goes south: Pandering for the vote

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign stop at the Whistle Stop cafe in Mobile, Alabama.
GETTY IMAGES

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You might be a redneck if you’re voting in the Deep South primaries in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday. (We mean no offense by this; more on it in just a bit.) Of course, there are many possible neck colors among the Southern voting populace, but Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are probably hoping for the darkest crimson as they attempt to convince conservatives that they best represent old Dixie ideology in an effort to amp their flagging candidacies.

Now, we belong to the camp that sees Mitt Romney as the inevitable GOP presidential nominee. That’s based on the potent combination of his superior (estimated) delegate haul and his advantages in establishment support and, the real vote-buyer, campaign cash. But math and numbers have never had strong support among the Republican base, so we’re guessing that today’s elections will exist outside of this framework.

Romney understands his campaign’s failure to gain serious conservative traction in the South, with its large evangelical demographics. (He admitted that the contests were “a bit of an away game” for him.) As such, he’s stooped to Gingrich-levels of obvious pandering, telling a Mississippi audience last week that he’s “learning to say ‘y’all’ and I like grits, strange things are happening to me.” He’s also enlisting the support of You Might Be A Redneck luminary Jeff Foxworthy. (See? Foreshadowing, not hate speech!)

What makes the whole situation even more cringeworthy, though, is this: There is some evidence to suggest that these deceitful tactics might actually work. According to Public Policy Polling data, a near-plurality of likely Republican voters in Alabama and Mississippi hold seriously questionable views on Barack Obama, including the pervasive belief that the president is in fact a secret Muslim. It’s not a huge leap to imagine that a group of people so fundamentally opposed to Obama that they believe this sort of unsupported fallacy might actually fall victim to the irreconcilable idea that Romney may truly be representative of the Deep South, with its historical poverty and, yes, love of grits.

The Not-Romneys must be hoping that the South asserts its famous independence and refutes Mitt’s awkward vote-shopping. It’d take a huge upset to change the campaign narrative. But then, stranger things have happened.


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