This wasn’t a friendly audience.
There is no gap in American politics wider than the one which divides the Democratic and Republican Party among African-American voters — the latest poll today showing Republican Mitt Romney favored by just 2 percent of all black voters.
Still, the NAACP national convention in Houston today was a must-attend event for Romney, his party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Yet the reception was rough — and the candidate’s words may have made it rougher.
Romney at the NAACP drew audible “boos” from the audience when he said during his 25-minute speech: “If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you’re looking at him.”
Romney pledged to reduce government spending, saying that the nation’s high level of debt impedes job growth. To help tame spending and spur jobs, he promised to “eliminate expensive non-essential programs like Obamacare.”
His promise to repeal the signature legislative achievement of President Barack Obama’s term also drew boos — though most of the audience also gave its guest a standing ovation at the close of his remarks.
Four years ago, Arizona Senator John McCain, then the likely Republican presidential nominee, told black voters that he would expand educational opportunities, partly with vouchers for low- income children to attend private school. He also praised Obama, then a senator from Illinois, for his historic campaign. Obama, who became the first black president, won 95 percent of the African-American vote.
Romney had little choice today.
“Were he not to attend the convention, that would send a negative signal to many swing voters,” said Mark Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University in Houston. “It’s not a friendly venue for any Republican, but it could send a positive signal to the population at large.”
John McCormick contributed from Houston.