I’m sure none of the Republican candidates are happier to leave the South than Mitt Romney. Romney sounded like a “Saturday Night Live” parody of himself as he tried time and again to relate to Goober and his buddies in Mississippi and Alabama.

Can we stop eating grits yet?

I’m sure none of the Republican candidates are happier to leave the South than Mitt Romney. Romney sounded like a “Saturday Night Live” parody of himself as he tried time and again to relate to Goober and his buddies in Mississippi and Alabama.

Romney and Newt Gingrich got into a grit-eating contest where Gingrich sounded like Bubba from Forrest Gump. Bubba had eaten every kind of shrimp, and he listed each of them across several scenes of the movie. Gingrich tried to match Bubba’s variety and out “Southern” Romney.

“I figure if you don’t understand grits, there’s a pretty high likelihood that you don’t understand the rest of the South, either,” Gingrich said. “I want you to know as a Georgian, I understand grits. I even understand cheese grits. I even understand shrimp and grits, with gravy — I get it.”

Somehow –– even with a buffet line full of grits –– Gingrich failed to win either Southern state Tuesday. Santorum won both handily.

But Gingrich did beat Romney in both contests. That had to make this morning’s grits taste a little better after the exchange the two had this week where Gingrich called Romney a weak frontrunner, and Romney responded with, “What does that say about him?”

However, Romney was able to win big in Hawaii and American Samoa.
It is unfortunate that the candidates only said “Howdy!” to the Southern states and didn’t get to campaign on either island. I would love to have heard Ron Paul telling islanders “Aloha!” and Gingrich explaining how much pineapple he has consumed.

It would have been fun to hear Romney jibe back with, “Gingrich only tried poi yesterday. My friends and I charter flights to Hawaii every weekend, and I understand poi.”

For Romney, these less significant wins by larger margins only help to reinforce his “do the math” argument. Even with weak performances in several important states, Romney is winning enough delegates to apparently have the nomination within reach.

Here is a hint going forward: You don’t have to look and sound like me to relate to me.

I swam in the shallow end of politics when I was on the campaign staff for a candidate running for the Oklahoma Senate. Then I left politics for the glitz and glamour of community newspapers.

I spoke to a lot of groups and made a lot of appearances on behalf of my candidate. I never once wore cowboy boots or said “y’all.” Some of the people I met with did. But they wouldn’t have been impressed with my fake accent or shiny new boots that had never been within 100 yards of a cow pile.

I grew up with friends in the Future Farmers of America and had many close friends who were up at dawn working on their parents’ farms or getting their animals ready for shows. I even helped them when I stayed the night or was invited to help. I wore high-top basketball shoes on the farm. I’ve never owned a pair of boots.

So I didn’t pander to these genuine people when asking for their votes. We didn’t have to be like them to understand them and represent them.
I never wore a pair of boots or milked a goat by hand, but I left with the respect of several of these groups and deposited a few checks for the campaign because they knew we would best represent their interests in the Oklahoma legislature.

Certainly, the GOP field is a much larger stage, but I think the principle holds. Voters don’t want you to pretend to be like them for a few days. They want to know that when you create policy regulating how they live, you understand their concerns and will vote the way they would vote.

They don’t care if you wear pressed jeans or a $2,000 suit. They care about the economy, taxes, security and society. Those are the things you have to get –– not grits or poi or surfing or farm life.

These candidates need to figure this out pretty quickly. You can’t be all things to all people. But you can be the right man for the job.