2012 ELECTION

Romney's 'Southern' accents are a hit-and-miss

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MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - Wealthy New Englander Mitt Romney is trying to woo Southern voters with a mix of regional references that sometimes show self-deprecating humor, and sometimes are just plain awkward.

The GOP presidential contender admits that campaigning in Alabama, Mississippi and other Southern states is "a bit of an away game" for him.

Unlike Kansas, however, he's campaigning hard in those states, hoping essentially to tie or even steal a victory from more conservative rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Romney seems torn between trying to be a full-bore (albeit temporary) Southerner and acknowledging his outsider status.

In rainy Mobile on Monday, he talked of eating catfish and hunting as he campaigned alongside comedian Jeff Foxworthy, known for his "you might be a redneck" jokes.

As is often the case, Romney showed an engaging side and stiffness, at almost the same time.

When the rain-soaked crowd sang "Happy Birthday," Romney exclaimed: "That's a fine Alabama good morning," as if such greetings are somehow different in other states. Moments later, he showed good-natured self-awareness, saying he hoped to go hunting with an Alabama friend who "can actually show me which end of the rifle to point."

The audience, crammed under an awning for protection from the storm, laughed with appreciation.

The former Massachusetts governor was mocked during his 2008 presidential bid for claiming he sometimes hunts "small varmints."

GOP candidates rarely refer to firearms without extolling the need to protect gun-owners' rights.

Romney sometimes has struggled to connect with Southern Republicans. He recently said he doesn't follow auto racing but knows people who own NASCAR teams.

He greeted voters in Jackson, Miss., last week with a hearty "Morning, y'all!" and said he started the day with "a biscuit and some cheesy grits."

While Southerners sometimes add cheese to grits, they generally go with just salt, pepper and butter.

In Birmingham, Ala., Romney was endorsed by Randy Owen of the popular country band Alabama. But Romney raised eyebrows when he asked Owen to sing a few lines of "Sweet Home, Alabama," the iconic hit for a rival band, Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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