Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he anticipated he would be booed at the NAACP convention on Wednesday when he vowed to repeal “Obamacare” during his speech at the group's annual convention. But the likely GOP nominee said in an interview afterward that despite the hostile reception, he believes he has a chance with black voters.
“I think we expected that," Romney said during an interview to air on Wednesday night on Fox Business Network's Cavuto. But he noted that he got a standing ovation at the end of his remarks, which he said “was generous and hospitable on the part of the audience.”
“While we disagree on some issues like Obamacare, a lot of issues we see eye-to-eye,” Romney said.
The booing was a barely needed reminder that Romney lags behind President Obama among black voters: Obama has a whopping 90 percent rate of support, according to the newest Quinnipiac poll. And despite Romney's post-speech optimism, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous criticized the presumptive GOP nominee in a statement following the speech.
“While we are glad that Governor Romney recognized the power of the black electorate, he laid out an agenda that was antithetical to many of our interests,” Jealous wrote. “His criticism of the Affordable Care Act — legislation that will improve access to quality health care for millions — signals his fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of many African-Americans.”
While Romney's appearance before the venerable civil-rights group may have won him few points among black voters, it may prove effective in courting conservative whites and tea party voters who have staunchly opposed the president's health care overhaul and who favor shrinking the size of the government.
Romney does not often seek out large groups of black voters. One of the few times he did, at a predominantly black Philadelphia charter school, he was met with jeers on the street and skeptics in the school. But then, as now, speaking to minorities — even if he has little hope of cutting into Obama's lead with them — makes him appear inclusive. Suburban voters, a key voting bloc for Romney, want a candidate who embraces diversity; the NAACP appearance may help him in that respect.
The crowd applauded at 18 points during Romney's speech, particularly when he promised to improve access to quality education and to impose means testing on Medicare recipients to reduce benefits to well-off enrollees.
Romney's audience also applauded his comments on free trade, when he vowed, “I will clamp down on cheaters like China and make sure they don't steal our jobs.” And it also responded favorably when he attacked teachers' unions, saying he would not let them stand in the way of improving the performance of public and charter schools.
But Romney's assertion, “If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him,” was met with heckling. The most sustained booing came when he pledged he would “eliminate every nonessential expensive program I can find — that includes Obamacare.”
His most conciliatory remarks came near the end of his speech, when he said, “I can't promise that you and I will agree on every issue. But I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned. We will know one another and work to common purposes.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, the Missouri Democrat who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, graded Romney's appearance an “F-minus” for the Obamacare remark and said the audience's disapproval was “inappropriate, but predictable.” However, Cleaver said he gave Romney an “A” for making the appearance.
According to a June Pew poll, black voters' engagement in the election remains high. That, coupled with Obama's staggering lead with them, means Romney can do little more than posture before a group he has no hopes of winning.