PORT OF PASCAGOULA, Miss. — Mitt Romney, wearing jeans and a button-up shirt, held his first rally in Mississippi on Thursday evening and welcomed the endorsement of Gov. Phil Bryant (R).

Despite polls showing Romney running behind Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in Southern states, the former Massachusetts governor pitched himself as an “unofficial Southerner.”

“I’m learning to say ‘y’all’ and ‘I like grits,’ ” said Romney, who told the crowd his father-in-law came to the port often because he made parts for ships and sold the parts here.

The supporters he drew numbered several dozen and stood in the open air at the port, with a gray sky and barges as a backdrop. New Orleans jazz music was piped in.

Romney spoke for less than 15 minutes, presenting himself as the alternative to President Obama. He did not mention his Republican opponents.

“Since this president has been president, the price of gas has doubled,” Romney said. “This is a guy who has slowed down, as I’m sure you know, the licensing and permitting of offshore rigs, of offshore drilling.

“He even said no to the Keystone Pipeline coming in from Canada. If I’m president, we’re going to start drilling again off shore,” Romney said, speaking with the Gulf of Mexico at his back.