Reporting from Pascagoula, Miss. — Mitt Romney of Massachusetts took his presidential campaign to the difficult terrain of the South on Thursday, calling on a crowd in Pascagoula to back him as the strongest candidate to face President Obama.
“I do not want President Obama’s liberal vision imposed on the American people; I want to restore the principles of freedom that made us the hope of the earth,” Romney said. “You guys are great. We’ve got some work to do. I need your vote! I need your vote!”
Romney is looking to pick up some of Mississippi's 40 delegates even if the state’s popular vote is out of his grasp. To that end, his team pulled together the rally overlooking oil rigs at the Port of Pascagoula in less than 24 hours — drawing a sparse crowd for a rally where Romney was endorsed by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.
As the former governor of Massachusetts began his remarks, he gave special recognition to his aide Garrett Jackson, a former manager of the Ole Miss football team who travels with Romney every day, assisting him along rope lines and snapping pictures of the candidate for his fans. Romney joked Thursday that Jackson had been trying to turn him into “an unofficial Southerner" by teaching him to say ‘y'all’ and to appreciate grits: “Strange things are happening to me,” he said.
Speaking before a backdrop of rigs and a blue and white tug boat decorated with a large "Romney for President" sign, Romney promised that if elected he would expand domestic drilling and increase shipbuilding — two areas of importance to voters of this region.
“This is a choice for America; this is campaign is about whether we are going to become more and more liberal and look more and more like Europe with a government that tells us how to live our lives, or instead whether we’re going to remain a free and prosperous nation,” said Romney, who did not mention his GOP rivals, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, campaigned Wednesday evening before a crowd of hundreds in Jackson, urging the state's voters to back him as a way to put pressure on Newt Gingrich to abandon the race. Santorum and Gingrich are competing for the conservative evangelical Christians who have been cool to Romney in other states. Santorum called Romney an "insider moderate” and told his audience that if he were to win Mississippi, the contest would quickly become a two-man race.
Gingrich, the longtime former congressman from Georgia and onetime speaker of the House, is planning to focus on Mississippi and Alabama over the next few days. But the super PAC supporting Romney has already turned its fire in the Southern states on Santorum, who has accused Romney and his allies of “carpet-bombing” his campaign.