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GOP Candidates Make Last-Minute Appeals In South


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. The push is on for Republican voters in the heart of Dixie. Tomorrow, Alabama and Mississippi hold primaries. And today, that's where you could spot Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. During visits to the Gulf Coast, each of them bashed President Obama's record on energy, as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: It was a soggy start for Mitt Romney on his last campaign swing in Alabama. During an early morning downpour at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mobile, the former Massachusetts governor huddled under an awning, decrying President Obama's leadership.

MITT ROMNEY: This president has done almost everything wrong.

ELLIOTT: Romney checked off the deficit, taxes, unemployment and energy.

ROMNEY: He was going to try and put in place energy policies to make things better. Well, gasoline is twice as expensive as when he was elected.

ELLIOTT: Just down the coast in Biloxi, Mississippi, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took his turn attacking Obama's energy ideas.

NEWT GINGRICH: The biggest issue this fall is going to be drilling versus algae. It's going to be 2.50 a gallon versus $10 a gallon. It's going to be which future do you want for your children and your country.

ELLIOTT: It's a timely topic on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Just before he left office last year, former Governor Haley Barbour issued new rules opening up offshore oil and gas development in state waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The plan has opened a debate here, with some tourism interests still reeling from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. But at a Gulf Coast energy summit today, speakers, including Gingrich, called for an all-of-the-above domestic energy policy, as did his rival, Rick Santorum.

RICK SANTORUM: We've seen that the president has a two-letter energy policy: N-O. And we need a policy that says - doesn't say no to the development of energy.

ELLIOTT: To hammer home a homegrown energy argument, Santorum brought along a slab of oil shale from Pennsylvania.

SANTORUM: This is oil. It's pretty remarkable to think that you can get oil out of this. But through that hydraulic fracturing, you can. It's being produced up there. This is light, sweet crude, right here.

ELLIOTT: Santorum says states, not the federal government, should be the ones regulating oil and gas development within their borders. Mississippi's Republican governor, Phil Bryant, defended the state's offshore plan and says the state would make sure it's done properly.

GOVERNOR PHIL BRYANT: And the idea that somehow we would deliberately harm that gulf is out of touch with reality. That has never occurred, and it will never occur.

ELLIOTT: Gingrich blamed the BP-Deepwater Horizon blowout on a bureaucracy that wasn't up to speed on deepwater drilling.

GINGRICH: We have an obligation, on the one hand, to develop offshore in order to have energy. On the other hand, we have an obligation to fisheries, we have an obligation to tourism, to also make sure that we are capable of a real-time response to a problem with the most advanced technology in the world.

ELLIOTT: Air Force retiree Dean Sellars(ph) of Moss Point, Mississippi, says it's not right to curtail drilling because of one environmental crisis.

DEAN SELLARS: How many oil rigs are out there, and how long have we been drilling? And all of a sudden we get one, one out of how many thousands of oil wells are already out there, and we're going to shut the whole thing down because of one? No.

ELLIOTT: Sellars, a Santorum supporter, likes the idea of near-shore drilling.

SELLARS: Well, if they drill here, then we have jobs in Mississippi. We're not sending our money over to Saudi Arabia or all the other places. It brings jobs and everything back to this country.

ELLIOTT: Republican voters here and in Alabama rank jobs as the critical issue in this election year. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Biloxi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.