Pascagoula, MS -- Less than stellar poll numbers heading into next week's primaries in Southern states did not stop Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney from branding himself an "unofficial Southerner" in Mississippi.

Romney joked he is "learning to say y'all and like grits" to the nearly 150 Mississippians gathered to hear him speak at the Port of Pascagoula, where he nabbed the endorsement of Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant.

Bryant praised Romney as the man who "can win this campaign." He added, "I believe Mitt Romney is the republican candidate that can be nominated and can defeat Barack Obama. It's as simple as that. I want to win."

Standing before massive barges, and oil rigs resting in the port, the former Massachusetts governor pledged to accelerate the licensing and permitting process for oil drilling and approve the Keystone Pipeline from Canada, which he called a "no-brainer."

He spoke briefly and did not mention his Republican rivals, but attributed rising gas prices to Obama and criticized the President for playing a blame game.

"Since this President has been President, the cost of gas has doubled...we've gone from yes we can to it's not my fault," Romney barbed.

Earlier today in an interview with an Alabama radio station, Romney ceded that the Southern primaries were a "bit of an away game," for him--one poll in Alabama show him trailing rival candidate Rick Santorum by four percentage points.

The event in Pascagoula was Romney's first play in the Alabama, where voting will take place on Tuesday, but he will continue to court southern voters here tomorrow as well as in neighboring Mississippi.