THERE ARE FEW VERY SOUTHERN ACCENTS IN MINNESOTA…. The New York Times has an interesting piece this morning on Tim Pawlenty’s style as a presidential candidate, and by all appearances, he’s doing exactly what he should be doing at this stage.
Given that the former Republican governor of Minnesota doesn’t have high name recognition, doesn’t have a lot of money, and doesn’t have a massive campaign operation, Pawlenty is working his tail off in Iowa and New Hampshire. “Few audiences are too small for Mr. Pawlenty, who turns up at Tea Party rallies, church forums and beer and pizza parties with College Republicans. He even hit the ice to play hockey here, with a local television crew following closely along,” the piece noted.
So far, so good. Slightly trickier, though, is Pawlenty’s desire to appeal equally to all of the party’s factions: “[S]eeking to keep a foot in all Republican camps, rather than concentrating on a more targeted slice of voters, could leave the impression that he is trying too hard.”
Adopting a fake Southern accent, for example, would probably count as “trying too hard.”
The knock on Mr. Pawlenty, according to conversations with voters, is that his speeches sound sincere but do not always sizzle. At a faith forum last week in Iowa, he displayed vigor. But the next day at the Statehouse, the talk among several Republicans was that it seemed he had suddenly developed a Southern accent as he tried connecting to voters by speaking louder and with more energy.
The political blog of Radio Iowa heard it too and noted, “Pawlenty seems to be adopting a Southern accent as he talks about his record as governor.” As he spoke of the country’s challenges, he dropped the letter G, saying: “It ain’t gonna be easy. This is about plowin’ ahead and gettin’ the job done.”
Now, I didn’t hear the remarks, so I can’t speak to this assessment. I know plenty of speakers, including terrific orators like President Obama, who rely on these little rhetorical short cuts all the time. “Going to” becomes “gonna,” “working” becomes “workin,” etc. There’s nothing uniquely Southern about any of this; it’s just how people talk.
But while I haven’t heard Pawlenty — who’s never lived outside of Minnesota — take on an accent that isn’t his, those who have heard his stump speech apparently picked up on it.
And if so, this poses a problem. Pawlenty isn’t well known, but if he establishes himself as “the guy with the fake Southern accent,” it won’t win him any votes.