Mitt Romney really likes grits, y'all. Rick Santorum was practically the senator of Puerto Rico. And Newt Gingrich just loves bass fishing.
Pandering to voters by embracing local traditions is a time-honored election strategy. Starting in wintry Iowa, candidates visit local restaurants, profess their love for regional cuisine and generally strive to prove to voters that they're really not so different.
"I was bowling in Sheboygan yesterday with a bunch of folks at a tournament and threw three strikes in a row," Santorum said last Sunday. "That's a turkey. That tells you that you've got someone here who can relate to the voters in Wisconsin, just like those of us in western Pennsylvania who grew up in the bowling lanes."
Of course, efforts to identify with a state or demographic can also go horribly awry -- take Michele Bachmann's effort to play up her hometown Iowa cred, in which she ended up inadvertently comparing herself to serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Or Herman Cain's attempt to connect with Miami, Florida voters by sampling Cuban coffee and asking, "How do you say delicious in Cuban?"
Here's a look at some of the efforts -- successful or not -- made by candidates to connect to state primary voters:
Attempting to connect with Wisconsin voters, Mitt Romney shared an anecdote about his father shutting down a Michigan factory and moving production to Wisconsin: One of [the] most humorous I think relates to my father. You may remember my father, George Romney, was president of an automobile company called American Motors. ... They had a factory in Michigan, and they had a factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and another one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And as the president of the company he decided to close the factory in Michigan and move all the production to Wisconsin. Now later he decided to run for governor of Michigan and so you can imagine that having closed the factory and moved all the production to Wisconsin was a very sensitive issue to him, for his campaign.
Michele Bachmann tried to play up her hometown roots before the Iowa caucus, telling Fox News, "Well, what I want them to know is just like, John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too." While Wayne's parents lived in Waterloo at one point, the movie star was born in Winterset, Iowa. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy, however, did hail from Waterloo.
Campaigning in Mississippi, Romney joked about his transformation into an "unofficial Southerner," saying, "I'm learning to say 'y'all' and I like grits. Strange things are happening to me." The next day, he reaffirmed his newfound love for Southern cuisine, telling supporters, "I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits. I'll tell you! Delicious."
While campaigning in his birthplace of Michigan, Romney expounded on his love for the state's natural beauty (especially its trees): Everything seems right here. You know, I come back to Michigan; the trees are the right height. The grass is the right color for this time of year, kind of a brownish-greenish sort of thing. It just feels right.
Rick Santorum explicitly made the case that his bowling skills make him relatable to Wisconsin voters: "The reaction I got yesterday in traveling round in Bellevue and Sheboygan, and up here in Green Bay, was a great outpouring of support," he said. "And you know what? Yesterday -- I don't know if you saw this -- but actually I was bowling in Sheboygan yesterday with a bunch of folks at a tournament and threw three strikes in a row. That's a turkey. That tells you that you've got someone here who can relate to the voters in Wisconsin, just like those of us in western Pennsylvania who grew up in the bowling lanes."
Florida's space coast was hit by federal cuts to the space program, so crowds appeared receptive when Newt Gingrich promised to develop the commercial space industry and to build a permanent base on the moon.
When campaigning in Missouri, Romney polled his audience to make sure he was getting the local dialect right: "Now, he kept saying 'Missour-uh.' How many people in this audience call it 'Missour-uh' rather than Missour-ee?"" Romney asked at an event with former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). "OK. How many say Missouri like I do?" After a show of hands, he continued: "OK, I'm in Missour-ee right now. I think we're going to Missour-uh a little later today, yeah yeah. We're going to be taking a trip over to Missour-uh!"
Campaiging in Alabama, Newt Gingrich accused Mitt Romney of pandering to Southern voters before doing some of his own, donning a fishing shirt and changing his language, ABC News reports: Gingrich shed his usual suit for a Bassmaster's shirt. The audience cheered as Gingrich walked out wearing the fishing shirt, complete with Bassmaster logos, after being introduced and endorsed by the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, Ray Scott, the person responsible for creating the first pro-Bass fishing tournament. ... Gingrich also added new words to his vocabulary: "ain't" and "y'all," were words not heard in the former speaker's rhetoric in states like New Hampshire and Nevada.
Herman Cain's attempt to woo Miami, Florida voters fell flat when he asked, "How do you say delicious in Cuban?" after trying some Cuban coffee.
Rick Santorum told a town hall in Puerto Rico, "I was referred to by many in my state as Senador Puertorriqueño. They used to make fun of me, 'Why are you representing Puerto Rico?' Well, someone has to because they don't have a voice." Puerto Ricans were less than enthused by his comments that the commonwealth must adopt English as a primary language to be considered for statehood.
"What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty," Michele Bachmann told voters in the state last year. "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord." Both battles took place in Massachusetts.
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