Sunday, June 17, 2018

Romney is facing skepticism in Republican 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.

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