Miss. Gov. Bryant Endorses Mitt Romney

Alabama and Mississippi are holding Republican primaries on Tuesday. The contests are vitally important for the candidacies of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Mitt Romney arrived in Mississippi Thursday night for a rally, and he has a pair of events in Mississippi and Alabama Friday.

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Mitt Romney is on the road again, this time in the deep South. He's campaigning today in Mississippi and Alabama, both states that hold primaries next Tuesday. NPR's Ari Shapiro was at a Romney rally at a port on the Gulf of Mexico.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Mitt Romney left his home in bright spring Boston weather and flew down to where the air is thick and the accents are thicker, a town known as Goula.

GOVERNOR PHIL BRYANT: Well, you know, it's kind of the locals say that for Pascagoula. So if you really want to go in and be treated right, just say glad to be in Goula.

SHAPIRO: That's Mississippi governor, Phil Bryant. He endorsed Romney last night. According to pollsters and pundits, this is hostile territory for Romney. Carla Castorina doesn't buy it. She stands in the crowd with a big hand lettered sign.

CARLA CASTORINA: It says, Hey, y'all, this southern female Christian conservative Navy mom believes in America and supports Mitt.

SHAPIRO: She says she made it at home one night in a fit of frustration.

: I was venting. Because I watch TV, the national news, and I hear he isn't connecting with the female vote or he isn't connecting with the Christian conservatives or he isn't connecting with the Southern voter. Well, I'm the whole package, and he has connected with me.

SHAPIRO: Another supporter, Beatrice Ishy, thinks Romney has a hard time in this part of the country because of misconceptions about him and about his Mormon faith in particular.

BEATRICE ISHY: I hear a lot of people say that they have kind of a disdain for it and they feel like he isn't representative of those values. Even though they wouldn't say it, I think there's just kind of an understanding that that's why he's not as strong of a candidate.

SHAPIRO: While she spoke, a pelican plunged into the water behind her for a fish. Not the kind of thing you'd see at an Ohio Romney rally. He took the stage in front of hulking oil rigs floating behind him in the water. Romney tried to make the most of his local ties, introducing a staffer who grew up in Mississippi.

MITT ROMNEY: And so he is now turning me into a, I don't know, an unofficial Southerner. And I'm learning to say y'all and I like grits and the things - strange things are happening to me.

SHAPIRO: This was Romney's first event since Super Tuesday. Yet he did not mention his wins in other parts of the country. And he didn't mention his Republican rivals either.

ROMNEY: Lot of people hurting right now. And I look back and wonder how that could be. Because when President Obama was candidate Obama, he made a lot of promises. He said that if we let him run this country, why, he'd heal the world, remember. All these wonderful things. He was the one we were waiting for.

SHAPIRO: One of those people hurting right now is Paul Pogorzelski. He's been in shipbuilding 27 years, and two weeks ago he got a pink slip.

PAUL POGORZELSKI: Looking everywhere right now. I got the trifecta thing going, I guess. Unemployed, underwater mortgage, and today I was looking around for how to do food stamps. New ground for me.

SHAPIRO: The unemployment rate here in Mississippi is above 10 percent, two points higher than the national average. Romney said President Obama deserves some of the blame for these tough times.

ROMNEY: The cost of gasoline has doubled. Not exactly what he might've hoped for. And he says, well, it's not my fault. By the way, we've gone from, you know, yes, we can to it's not my fault. This is a new campaign slogan, it's not my fault. Well, in fact, this is, in part, his fault.

SHAPIRO: Romney argued that fast-tracking oil leases and drilling permits could lower the price of gas. As he wrapped up, the campaign brought out one more local touch. Instead of the rock anthem "Born Free" that typically ends a Romney speech, last night the speakers blasted old time Dixieland jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Pascagoula, Mississippi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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