HOUSTON – Unflinching before a skeptical NAACP crowd, Mitt Romney declared Wednesday he’d do more for African-Americans than Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president. He drew jeers when he lambasted the Democrat’s policies.
If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him, Romney told the group’s annual convention. Pausing as some in the crowd heckled, he added, You take a look!
For real? yelled someone in the crowd.
The reception was occasionally rocky though generally polite as the Republican presidential candidate sought to woo a Democratic bloc that voted heavily for Obama four years ago and is certain to do so again. Romney was booed when he vowed to repeal Obamacare – the Democrat’s signature health care measure – and the crowd interrupted him when he accused Obama of failing to spark a more robust economic recovery.
I know the president has said he will do those things. But he has not. He cannot. He will not, Romney said as the crowd’s murmurs turned to groans.
At other points, Romney earned scattered clapping for his promises to create jobs and improve education. In an interview with Fox News after the speech, Romney said he had expected the negative reaction to some of his comments. I am going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country, which is that Obamacare is killing jobs, he said.
Four months before the election, Romney’s appearance at the NAACP convention was a direct, aggressive appeal for support from across the political spectrum in what polls show is a close contest. Romney doesn’t expect to win a majority of black voters – 95 percent backed Obama in 2008 – but he’s trying to show independent and swing voters that he’s willing to reach out to diverse audiences, while demonstrating that his campaign and the Republican Party he leads are inclusive.
The stakes are high. Romney’s chances in battleground states such as North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania – which have huge numbers of blacks who helped Obama win four years ago – will improve if he can cut into the president’s advantage by persuading black voters to support him or if they stay home on Election Day.
For the past year, Romney’s campaign has sought to avoid any overt discussion of race. The campaign is mindful both of the sensitivities of Romney being a white man looking to unseat the nation’s first black president and of Romney’s Mormon church’s complicated racial history, having barred men of African descent from the priesthood until 1978.
Romney also said much more must be done to improve education in the nation’s cities, and he vowed to help put blacks back to work. Citing June labor reports, he noted that the 14.4 percent unemployment rate among blacks is much higher than the 8.2 percent national average. Blacks also tend to be unemployed longer, and black families have a lower median income, Romney said.
Obama spoke to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during the 2008 campaign, as did his Republican opponent that year, Sen. John McCain. The president has dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to address the group today.