It's hard for a southern person not to get ambitious once he moves north and realizes he can slay the room with a single "y'all." The southern accent is great for getting people to do what you want -- buy you drinks, let you invade Iraq -- and Rick Perry is using his Texas twang to nail Mitt Romney in a way that Tim Pawlenty's flat vowels never could. On Monday, Perry charmed voters in Iowa, the state Romney once ignored but now needs after Perry's entrance in the 2012 race.
He enters a room with "aw shucks," "howdy, y'all" and "this is just awesome!" folksy charm. He's got big, beefy hands that are always reaching out to shake another with a firm grasp.
Longtime friends of Mr. Romney's are well aware of the critique that has long followed him: that he is wooden and awkward with voters. But they insist that he is not that way in private, and they are hoping that his changes in style can show through this time around.It’s not clear that it will. His speaking style still has none of the Southern charm of Mr. Perry's, nor any of the authentic randomness of [Michele] Bachmann's.
The freewheeling atmosphere that surrounded Mr. Perry, whose smile broadened every time a passer-by offered a wave or an encouraging word, stood in contrast to Mr. Romney. Four days earlier, Mr. Romney was surrounded by admirers, too, though he did not linger to absorb the compliments as Mr. Perry did.
When offered to taste a sizeable pork tenderloin, [Perry] ate the whole thing. "Pork, the other white meat," he said, before tearing into the slab of meat. "We won't have to worry about dinner tonight, and there will be a good little bit of exercise, too."
Folksy doesn't do justice to describe Perry's brand of meeting-and-greeting voters. Men got pats on their chest and back and were frequently called "brother," elderly women were hugged and charmed as "girls" ...To the naked eye it seemed improvisational, but a retinue of Perry advance aides worked to ensure he found his way to friendly faces. Communicating via wrist mics and earpieces, the staffers eyed individuals wearing "veteran" hats and steered the candidate to them or vice-versa.
The Romney-must-now-compete-in-Iowa theory goes like this: Rep. Michele Bachmann is still not broadly seen as a real threat to steal the Republican nomination from Romney. While she remains the favorite in Iowa, few believe she can carry that momentum through a drawn-out GOP nomination battle with the likes of Romney, who is favored to win New Hampshire and Nevada and could also win the South Carolina primary.Perry, on the other hand, is seen as more of a long-term threat, and a win in Iowa by Perry would be much more dangerous to Romney than a Bachmann Iowas victory.While Romney is a heavy favorite to win in New Hampshire and Nevada, Perry may be favored to win in South Carolina. That means, if Perry wins Iowa, he could notch two of the four early states and really give Romney a run for his money in the nomination war.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.