“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, according to excerpts of his speech distributed by his campaign.
But Romney was greeted with boos from attendees at the NAACP’s annual meeting Wednesday in Houston when he pledged to repeal “Obamacare.”
The Republican presidential candidate faced a daunting task as he tried to appeal to a core Democratic constituency that is largely at odds with his policy prescriptions, suspicious of his record on diversity and civil rights, and largely committed to his general-election opponent.
The NAACP visit is the former Massachusetts governor’s attempt to move beyond the traditional Republican Party base by trying to deliver a message that the GOP is serious about attracting black voters.
Critics say the effort is pointless for his chances in November. Supporters say it is important for the future of the party.
Romney’s campaign began preliminary outreach efforts in May by hiring a senior black consultant to engage African American voters and by visiting a predominantly black charter school in Philadelphia. Campaign officials say those efforts will be expanded in the coming weeks in an effort to wrest as many votes as possible from President Obama.
“The governor is committed to competing in the black community. The odds are high, it’s challenging, but every percentage point that we chip away from President Obama counts,” said Tara Wall, who is consulting with the Romney campaign on outreach efforts. “There are shared values with this community around faith, family, free enterprise and education. He will highlight his record in terms of addressing health, wealth and disparity gaps and show clear distinctions between him and Obama.”
Wall said Romney had a record of lifting test scores of all students across the state and a record of bipartisanship as governor of Massachusetts, though she acknowledged there are policy differences on other issues, including health care and voting rights.
Critics said Romney’s record on civil rights and diversity were lacking and pointed to his tenure as governor. When he took office, he eliminated his state’s Office of Affirmative Action and proposed a filing fee for complaints of discrimination. During his race for Senate in 1994, Romney faced questions about diversity at his company Bain Capital, which did not have any black employees.
As governor, Romney was often at odds with the NAACP, though he did meet with black leaders occasionally.
“We protested against the Romney administration more than I care to remember. He had a very poor record, and he did absolutely nothing in the area of progressive legislation in civil rights and he did everything to try to dismantle the initiatives that were in place before he took office,” said Leonard Alkins, president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP from 1995 to 2006. “We had so many issues that we felt were falling on deaf ears with the administration. But in his four years in office, he never met once with the NAACP in Boston.”