Krystal Ball: Romney’s Southern Problem and Opportunity

Mitt Romney has both a southern problem and a southern opportunity.

Mitt enjoys “sport.” He’s not an ardent NASCAR fan but he does have friends who are team owners.

He’s “always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will.”

If this sounds like a guy poised to win over the hearts and minds of southern conservatives, then your only experience south of the Mason-Dixon likely involved a trip to visit relatives in Boca Raton.

Alabama and Mississippi are coming up on the primary calendar, and they are likely to prove quite challenging for Romney, who has yet to prove that he can win anywhere in the South.

With heartland states on the calendar as well, the March lineup is a tough one for former Governor Romney. This challenge is also an opportunity, though.

It gives Romney a chance to prove once and for all that he can win over demographic groups that he’s fallen flat with thus far.

As a daughter of the South who was born and raised in King George, Va., I can tell you that Mitt Romney’s southern problem is severe but surmountable. There is no question that, to the extent the South shares a cultural, religious, and personality aesthetic, Mitt Romney is the antithesis of this aesthetic.

Although I risk resorting to stereotype here, I think this somewhat contradictory aesthetic praises virility, straight talk, pluck, wit, comic timing, gallantry, humility, and swagger. Southerners loved Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Aesthetically, we loved George W. Bush and Rick Perry (before he proved himself verbally incontinent).

If Romney is going to learn to succeed here, his biggest obstacle besides religion (which is another subject) is that he is about as un-southern as you can get. Faking it, dropping his g’s, singing about Davy Crockett, and trying to be a regular guy isn’t going to work. Mitt’s going to have to show he has courage. It’s the only trait he might be capable of displaying (evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) that could make up for his other manifest aesthetic shortcomings.

And courage means telling people, in the South and elsewhere, not what you think they want to hear, but what you think they need to hear. It means telling hard truths that are inconvenient to your audience. It means doing just the sort of things that he’s going to need to become capable of if he is to win in November.

(Cross-posted, with permission of the author, from U.S. News’ Debate Club)


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