Sunday, June 10, 2007

US in thrall to southern drawl

By Alex Spillius in Washington
Last Updated: 2:21am BST 11/06/2007

To British ears, an American southern accent carries connotations of cowboys and country singers, but in the US it signals something quite different: political success.

US president Ronald Reagan; an American southern accent signals political success in the US
Ronald Reagan was not southern but possessed home-baked charm

Four of the last five US presidents have been southerners, and the only exception, Ronald Reagan, possessed the demonstrably southern virtues of straight talking and home-baked charm.

But in the early stages of the competition to succeed George W Bush neither the Republican nor Democrat parties boast a bona fide southerner among their candidates.

However, that is likely to change this week as Fred Thompson, sometime lawyer, lobbyist, star of Law and Order and senator, is expected to announce his bid for the Republican nomination.

Thompson has a lot going for him. Like Reagan, he is an actor. Unlike his rivals he is a reliable social conservative on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and gun control.

But the former senator from Tennessee is also the proud owner of an impressive southern brogue.

"No accent telegraphs more information faster than a southern one," wrote Elizabeth Wilner in The Politco newspaper. "It exudes approachability, an absence of pretence and a penchant for plain talk."

Thompson's mellifluous, authoritative tones are music to the ears of Republicans. "He sounds like a man in command," said Whit Ayres, a Republican psephologist. "He communicates very effectively to ordinary people and has definitely got the potential to win."

Things were all very different in the 1960s when southerners were unelectable, and more uptight, flat-voiced north-easterners and Washingtonians dominated.

The attraction of a southern candidate reflects the growing importance of the region. Its population is expanding thanks partly to migration from the north and mid-west by people in search of warmer weather and less crime.

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