Rom­ney fac­ing a skep­ti­cal South

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY EMI­LY­WAG­STER PET­TUS

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 Mor­monism, but if Mr. Rom­ney wins the Re­pub­li­can nom­i­na­tion and it’s a Novem­ber choice be­tween him and Pres­i­dent Obama, the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor may be just good enough for 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.

Mr. Rom­ney ac­knowl­edges that he faces a bat­tle in Tues­day’s South­ern pri­maries. 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., Mr. 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.

For­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, who rep­re­sented Ge­or­gia for 20 years and now lives in Virginia, must win ev­ery state from South Carolina to Texas to get to the con­ven­tion this sum­mer, spokesman R.C. Ham­mond says.

For­mer Penn­syl­va­nia Sen. Rick San­to­rum’s staff says he’ll be ag­gres­sive in states where Mr. Gin­grich ex­pects to per­form well.

Mr. Gin­grich scored an early pri­mary vic­tory in South Carolina and won this week in Ge­or­gia. Mr. Rom­ney added a Virginia win this week — Mr. Gin­grich and Mr. San­to­rum weren’t on the bal­lot — to his Jan. 31 win in Florida. Mr. San­to­rum won Ten­nessee.

Af­ter Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama next week, Louisiana votes March 24, North Carolina and Texas on May 8, Arkansas on May 22 and Texas on May 29.

Mr. San­to­rum and Mr. Gin­grich are in­vok­ing God and coun­try as they cam­paign in Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama. They’re win­ning ap­plause by say­ing Mr. Obama has been a weak ally for Is­rael, a point that res­onates with Chris­tian con­ser­va­tives.

Mr. Rom­ney and Mr. Obama also expressed sup­port for Is­rael this week in speeches to the Amer­i­can Is­rael Public Af­fairs Com­mit­tee in Washington.

But Mary Dock­ery, di­rec­tor of a Chris­tian youth group in cen­tral Mis­sis­sippi, said she’s vot­ing for Mr. San­to­rum be­cause she be­lieves he’s the most pro-is­rael can­di­date and al­luded to Gen­e­sis 12:3 and part of God’s covenant with Abra­ham: “I will bless those who bless you, and who­ever curses you I will curse.”

“In God’s word, he tells us about the bless­ings of those peo­ple who sup­port Is­rael,” Ms. Dock­ery said at a San­to­rum rally Wed­nes­day night at the Mis­sis­sippi Agri­cul­ture Mu­seum in Jack­son.

Still, Mr. Rom­ney is sup­ported by top Repub­li­cans in many South­ern states, in­clud­ing in Alabama, and he’ll speak in Birm­ing­ham on Fri­day. He’s been en­dorsed by for­mer Alabama Gov. Bob Ri­ley, though Mr. Ri­ley con­cedes his man 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,” Mr. Ri­ley said. “If there was ever time to have a job cre­ator in the White House, it is now.”

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