I, for one, was comforted to hear the warm Southern drawl put on by Ohio treasurer and senatorial candidate Josh Mandel while he campaigned for Mitt Romney before Beallsville coal miners on Wednesday.
As someone who recently spent six months living and working in Montgomery, Ala., it brought me back to simpler times when summer nights were spent drinking sweet tea spiked with rum on a porch and it was for some reason still OK to refer to a grown black man as “boy.”
So when I heard Josh Mandel extoll the virtues of coal in a drawl reminiscent of fresh butter spread on cornbread, I immediately thought, “shucks, this guy gets me — he’s one of us.”
Wait, what’s that? Mandel hails from Lyndhurst, a Cleveland suburb that’s the Hyde Park of Northern Ohio? He’s never even eaten cheese grits? (Editor’s note: CityBeat could not independently verify that Josh Mandel has in fact never eaten cheese grits.) Well now I just feel put on.
The Enquirer reported that Mandel had never publicly used a Southern accent before.
"As if blowing off work and hiring unqualified campaign workers and friends at taxpayer expense wasn't evidence enough of his blatant disregard for the people who elected him treasurer expecting that he'd do his job, Josh Mandel has now stooped to faking his accent as a means of earning votes," Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Andrew Zucker said in a statement. "It's sad, it's pathetic and unfortunately it's concrete proof that he is just another politician who can't be trusted."
Sounding folksy or down-homey is nothing new in presidential politics.
When campaigning in Alabama, Romney famously dropped “y’alls” into his speech and spoke of his newfound love for “cheesy grits” and catfish (my editor in Montgomery was quick to point out to me, another carpetbagger, that any real Southerner knows they’re cheese grits, not cheesy grits).
If there’s one thing Southerners don’t take too kindly to, it’s Yankee pandering.
“If you’re going to pander, at least pander well, and this isn’t pandering well,” Stephen Gordon, a Republican consultant based in Birmingham, Ala., told the Boston Herald shortly after Romney made his remarks.
“People in the Deep South have a bit of a natural distrust for Northerners, especially folks from the Northeast,” said Gordon, who is not affiliated with any campaign in the Republican presidential contest. “There are cultural differences, stemming all the way back to the Civil War, and they affect the way people perceive Mr. Romney.”
Romney is by no means the first to affect an accent to fit in with the natives.
Both Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton adopted drawls while on campaign stops in the South. Though those two former presidents, from Texas and Arkansas respectively, had the bona fides to pull it off.