Mitt Romney is desperately trying to win over southern voters as the former Massachusetts governor faces primaries in his one of his toughest regions on Tuesday.
In the past few days Romney has blasted President Barack Obama to a radio station Birmingham, awkwardly tried say y'all in Pascagoula and listed some his favorite country tunes on Spotify ahead of the Alabama and Mississippi contests. On Friday, he headed back to Birmingham as part of his effort to appeal to voters he's losing to Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and clear his path to the Republican presidential nomination.
We are within one point here in Alabama. A win in Alabama will end this process, Romney's regional political director, Michael Joffrion, wrote in an e-mail obtained by Politico.
On Thursday, the candidate himself told WAPI radio station in Alabama that getting the majority of the delegates, that would be icing on the cake, according to the National Journal.
On the surface, Romney is winning. Super Tuesday put the GOP hopeful well in the lead with 421 delegates and he has won more state contests than any of the other three Republican presidential candidates. He's won the endorsements of former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Missippi Gov. Phil Bryant.
Between the lines, however, the 10 contests earlier this week proved that the former Massachusetts governor struggles to win over more conservative and lower income voters who tend to favor Santorum. The only southern state Romney has taken so far is Virginia, and that's because Gingrich and Santorum failed to qualify for the ballot by not getting the required number of signatures ahead of deadline.
A Long Way To 1,144
None of the four candidates are close to reaching half of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination and go up against Obama in November. As Republican strategist and Bush alum Karl Rove wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial Thursday, Super Tuesday shows that the GOP race will likely go on for months, not weeks.
Romney is completely aware of how much he really could use a strong win in these upcoming contests. During a radio interview with WAPI in Birmingham, Ala. Thursday, Romney admitted that campaigning in the region was like a bit of an away game.
Nevertheless, he's trying really, really hard to relate to Southern voters.
At a campaign stop in Missouri on Thursday, the GOP hopeful from Michigan said he was turning into an unofficial Southerner. He joked, I'm learning to say y'all and I like grits. Strange things are happening to me.
Additionally, the super PAC that supports Romney reportedly bought $2.7 million in negative TV ads against Santorum in Alabama, Mississippi, Illinois and Louisiana, according to NPR. The Romney campaign spent $165,145 on broadcast television ads in Birmingham and Mobile, according to Politico.
So far, Romney, Santorum and Gingrich appear to be in a dead heat in Alabama. According to a statewide poll conducted by Alabama State University's Center for Leadership and Public Policy, Santorum has a slight lead over Romney, 22.7 percent to 18.7 percent. According to a Capital Survey poll, however, Romney is leading Gingrich 30 percent to 25 percent in the state.
The competition is similarly tight in Mississippi. A Rasmussen poll has Mitt Romney at 35 percent in the state, followed by both Gingrich and Santorum with 27 percent. According to the American Research Group, Gingrich leads with 35 percent to Romney 31 percent.
While Missippi and Alabama victories may help Romney a great deal, it won't necessarily make it or break it for the campaign. Real Clear Politics' Scott Conroy writes although connecting with voters in the heart of Dixie is a particularly difficult test for a Boston business titan who takes the skin off of his fried chicken before eating it and who governed a state that is synonymous with Yankee liberalism, Romney's southern problem isn't terrible in the long run.
In the general election, the South is going to be a strength for Mitt Romney, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Conroy. His weakness in the South mean this primary drags on, but once November rolls around, Romney's Southern problem will be over. Southerners may not like Mitt Romney, but they certainly don't like Barack Obama.