2012 ELECTION

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

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Owen gamely obliged. Of course, every presidential hopeful must seek votes in unfamiliar regions. Lyndon Johnson (Texas) and Jimmy Carter (Georgia) had strong Southern accents, and John F. Kennedy's Boston accent was strange to many Americans.

Romney seems at his best when he acknowledges that Southern mannerisms do not come naturally to him.

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

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

It's not clear that Southern Republicans feel more warmly toward Romney's chief rivals.

Gingrich, a former House speaker, represented Georgia for 20 years in Congress, but the non-native never developed a Southern accent. He also has not lived in Georgia for decades.

Santorum is from western Pennsylvania. None of them is a Protestant, the religious affiliation that dominates the South. Santorum and Gingrich are Roman Catholics, and Romney is Mormon.

Santorum and Gingrich talk more openly about God than does Romney, who occasionally mentions the importance of "my faith."

But that's true in all parts of the country. Some Romney supporters feel his Mormonism might hurt him in the South. But there has been little overt discussion of the topic.

Voters who braved Monday's rain to see Romney in Mobile had simple, straightforward reasons for backing him.

"He's a man of integrity," said Billye Howard, 64. "I like what he says." Patsy Clark, a retired banker, said Romney "is a fixer, and we definitely need fixing."

"He has good family values," Clark said. Some Republicans say it's essential for Romney to show strength in the South, which has become the party's most reliable region.

He might seem a somewhat weaker nominee if he fails to win a Deep South state, a cultural classification that no longer includes Florida, which Romney won.

But regardless of who is the Republican nominee, there's virtually no chance that President Barack Obama will win Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky or South Carolina. Georgia would be a mighty stretch.

Romney, who turned 65 on Monday, thanked Mobile supporters for a birthday gift. "I hope to unwrap it Tuesday," when both Alabama and Mississippi vote, he said.

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