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Romney is facing skepticism in Republican South

Republican candidate and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney admits he faces an uphill battle for the conservative vote in the Deep South.

Associated Press

Republican candidate and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney admits he faces an uphill battle for the conservative vote in the Deep South.

JACKSON, Miss. — Mitt Romney faces a tough sell in the Deep South. With Mississippi and Alabama primaries coming up Tuesday, there's concern that he's too slick, not really a conservative. In a region where the evangelical vote is important, some are skeptical about his Mormon faith.

But if Romney wins the Republican nomination and it's a November choice between him and Democratic President Barack Obama, the former Massachusetts governor may be just good enough for some Southerners.

"If push comes to shove and he gets the nomination, I'll go in the voting booth like this and vote for him," says Mississippi retiree David Wilke, holding his nose.

Romney acknowledges he faces an uphill battle. In an interview Thursday with Birmingham, Ala., radio station WAPI, he said the Deep South contests would be "a bit of an away game" for him.

Campaigning in Pascagoula, Miss., Romney said he is turning into an "unofficial Southerner."

"I'm learning to say 'y'all' and I like grits. Strange things are happening to me," he said jokingly.

Still, Romney is supported by top Republicans in many Southern states, including in Alabama, and he'll speak in Birmingham today. He has been endorsed by former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, though Riley concedes Romney is an underdog in the state.

"Mitt Romney is the only candidate with the leadership and business experience to take our country through this difficult economic situation and bring us out stronger," Riley said. "If there was ever time to have a job creator in the White House, it is now."

In Louisiana, which holds its primary in two weeks, state Republican Executive Director Jason Dore said support for GOP candidates seems to be fluctuating to match the national battle over the nomination.

In Mississippi, Romney has been endorsed by most statewide elected officials, including Gov. Phil Bryant, who announced his support Thursday shortly before a Romney rally in the coastal city of Pascagoula. Bryant supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry before he dropped out.

Santorum appeals for votes in Alabama

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum appealed Thursday for votes in Alabama's upcoming primary, calling the state the "heart of conservatism." During appearances in the Birmingham suburb of Pelham and earlier in Huntsville, the former Pennsylvania senator said he was the true conservative presidential candidate who would present the best contrast to Democratic President Barack Obama in November.

Gingrich's last stand may be on Tuesday

It was an ominous introduction for Republican Newt Gingrich, whose future as a presidential candidate rests in Mississippi and Alabama. "I can tell you right now, he's tired. He needs your prayers," former state Sen. Lee Yancey told a half-full Jackson hotel ballroom before the former House speaker took the stage. Gingrich's aides have said the candidate needs to win Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday to justify staying in the race.

Associated Press

Romney is facing skepticism in Republican South 03/08/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 8, 2012 9:52pm]
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