HOUSTON – Making the most prominent appearance in front of a largely black audience of his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney criticized President Obama’s record on education and the economy at the NAACP’s national convention and boldly declared he was the candidate who represented the “real, enduring best interest of African-American families.”
“If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him,” Romney said, causing many in crowd to boo.
The mood in the room was tense. Most of Romney’s 25-minute speech was greeted with silence and muted applause by the largely pro-Obama crowd. But the Republican candidate drew boos several times from the audience of more than 1,000, the loudest when he declared his plans to repeal “Obamacare,” the term he used to describe the national health care law passed by the president.
It was one of many broadsides Romney directed at Obama, not holding back from his usual criticisms because of the audience.
“I don’t trust him,” said Lu Dale of Dayton, a conference attendee who had joined the boos of Romney.
In front of a crowd that was almost entirely black, Romney emphasized he wanted to campaign in front of all Americans, even if he is unlikely to win their votes. About 95 percent of blacks voted for Obama in 2008, and the president remains very popular in the African-American community.
“I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African American families, you would vote for me for president,” Romney said. “I want you to know that if I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of color — and families of any color — more than the policies and leadership of President Obama, I would not be running for president.”
Romney’s remarks were much different than those he gives in front of largely-white crowds, as he pointedly emphasized his education reform ideas, which make it easier for students to attend charter and private schools. He noted that millions of African-American children attend low-performing schools. And he reeled off data to illustrate the economic challenges African-Americans are facing.
“If someone had told us in the 1950s or 60s that a black citizen would serve as the forty-fourth president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised. Picturing that day, we might have assumed that the American presidency would be the very last door of opportunity to be opened,” Romney said. “Before that came to pass, every other barrier on the path to equal opportunity would surely have to come down.”
He added, “Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way. Many barriers remain. Old inequities persist. … If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone. Instead, it’s worse for African-Americans in almost every way. The unemployment rate, the duration of unemployment, average income, and median family wealth are all worse for the black community. In June, while the overall unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent, the unemployment rate for African Americans actually went up, from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent.”
But the speech was more remarkable for the setting than his remarks. Politicians rarely campaign in front of audiences where it is possible that almost no one in the room will vote for them. But while the NAACP is officially a non-partisan organization, the audience was highly Democratic and pro-Obama.