Reporting from Mobile, Ala. — First it was grits. Now it’s catfish.
On the eve of the Mississippi and Alabama primaries, Mitt Romney showed how far he would go to bond with Southerners who might feel something less than a natural kinship with the famously stiff New England investment titan.
“That’s a fine Alabama good mornin’,” Romney said with a twang to a few dozen supporters who braved a drenching downpour to sing him “Happy Birthday” outside the Whistle Stop diner on the Gulf Coast.
The former Massachusetts governor, who turns 65 on Tuesday, could have left it at that.
But he didn’t. Instead, he shared his delight over a recent meal in Mississippi.
“I had catfish for the second time,” he told the crowd. “It was delicious, just like the first time.”
(In January, Romney told a crowd at a South Carolina barbecue joint that he was not “a catfish man, or not a fish man so much.”)
For his closing event of the twin Deep South primaries, Romney also brought along comedian Jeff Foxworthy, who is known for his redneck jokes.
“I never imagined I’d be up here like Larry the Cable Guy,” said Romney, who it’s safe to say is rarely mistaken for a TV repairman.
Campaigning last week in Mississippi, Romney said a local aide was turning him into an “unofficial Southerner.” “I’m learning to say `y’all,’ and I like grits,” he told supporters in Pascagoula.
On Tuesday, he went a step further in Alabama – at the risk of dredging up memories of all the political misfortune that befell him in 2007 when he told reporters: “I’ve always been, if you will, a rodent and rabbit hunter, all right? Small varmints, if you will.”
This time, Romney took the self-deprecating route. Turning to a local supporter in the Alabama rainstorm, he called the man a “terrific hunter.” “I’m looking forward to going out and hunting with you sometime,” Romney said. “And you can actually show me which end of the rifle to point.”