Romney to make pitch to black voters

2012-07-11 11:00

Houston - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney isn't going to win the black vote in his campaign against the nation's first African-American president.

But he's making a pitch to African-Americans at the annual meeting of a leading civil rights group, giving a major speech that's also aimed at showing independent and swing voters that he's willing to reach out to diverse audiences — and demonstrating that his campaign and the Republican Party he leads are inclusive.

Romney's advisers say he plans to focus, as he usually does, on the economy.

The 14.4% unemployment rate among blacks is much higher than the 8.2% national average. He's also likely to mention his plan to increase school choice — he's called education the "civil rights issue of our era".

It's a difficult sell — 95% of blacks backed President Barack Obama in 2008. But no matter what Romney tells the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) on Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats say he's making a statement just by speaking to the oldest US civil rights group.

"The first thing you need to do is show up, so I ultimately think he's doing the right thing," said Representative Tim Scott of South Carolina, one of two black Republicans in Congress. "What he's saying to everyone is that he's [running to become] America's president and not just those folks he thinks he can get votes from right now. I think that's a very important statement."

Rare audience

"You've got to get credit for showing up — for being willing to go — no question," said Karen Finney, a Democratic consultant who worked in the Clinton White House. "It's more about your actions than it is about what you say."

Obama spoke to the NAACP convention during his 2008 campaign, as did his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain. Obama doesn't plan to speak this year — instead, Vice President Joe Biden will address the convention on Thursday. Obama plans to address the Urban League later this month.

Romney rarely speaks to a predominantly black audience at political events. One exception was a May visit to a charter school in Philadelphia, where he cast fixing the education system as a way to help blacks and other minorities.

In framing education as a civil rights issue, Romney is following in George W Bush's footsteps. At a sweeping address to the NAACP in 2000, Bush, then the Republican presidential nominee, said the education system should "leave no child behind" — and he labelled the "soft bigotry of low expectations" as part of the problem facing black students.

The likely 2012 Republican nominee has a personal history with civil rights issues. Romney's father, George Romney, spoke out against segregation in the 1960s and as governor of Michigan toured his state's inner cities as race riots wracked Detroit and other urban areas across the country.

He went on to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department, where he pushed for housing reforms to help blacks.

Diminished enthusiasm

Mitt Romney invoked that legacy during a 2007 interview on NBC TV's Meet the Press: "My dad's reputation ... and my own has always been one of reaching out to people and not discriminating based upon race or anything else."

In recent months, Obama has approached race from an intensely personal perspective. After the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Florida — an act many blacks saw as racially motivated — Obama spoke directly to Martin's parents from the Rose Garden. "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said.

Diminished enthusiasm for the president in the wake of the economic downturn could dampen black turnout. And that could make the difference in Southern states Obama won in 2008, particularly North Carolina and Virginia.

Other factors could keep blacks away from voting booths. Romney's address to the group comes as Democrats and minority communities are expressing concern over a series of tough voter identification laws in a handful of states. Critics say the laws could make it harder for blacks and Hispanics to vote.

"He'll be standing in that room asking people for their votes at the same time that Republican legislators are trying to disenfranchise minority communities," said Finney, the Democratic consultant.

Romney expressed support for such laws during a late April visit to Pennsylvania, which now has one of the toughest voter identification statutes in the nation. "We ought to have voter identification so we know who's voting and we have a record of that," Romney said then.

  • JohncarlosBiza - 2012-07-11 11:15

    No self-respecting Afro-American will ever vote for the Republicans, and no self respecting person in general should vote for Romney.

      fishycraig - 2012-07-11 11:26

      So, a black guy votes for the Republican Party, as per his democratic right, and you deem them to have no self respect? Sounds a little Big Brother to me. Let them vote for policy and not whether the candidate is black or white/Republican or Democrat.

      JohncarlosBiza - 2012-07-11 12:10

      Yeah, and white farmers should vote for the ANCYL policies. Do you even know that thousands of black voters' ballots were not counted 12 years ago by the Republicans?

      fishycraig - 2012-07-11 14:05

      "No self-respecting white American will ever vote for the Democrats, and no self respecting person in general should vote for Obama." Kinda funny how that looks, hey? Did you know that millions of blacks were enslaved under Democrat rule in the 1800s in America and it was the Republicans who fought against it? All part and parcel of history. Exactly why the voters should look at both candidates and vote on policy for the future and not get sidetracked with race.

      sterling.ferguson.5 - 2012-07-11 20:56

      It shows how time can change a political party, the Democratic party was the party of slavery and apartheid up until the depression. When FDR became president, he offered the blacks a new deal and they have been voting for them since. On the other hand the Republican party was the party that was against slavery and now they are courting the racist element of the US.

      kgalalelo.malesele - 2012-07-12 08:13

      U all should be ashamed of yourselves, you are in South Africa and racially fighting about an American issue which doesnt need racism in it at all sis man

  • Gavin - 2012-07-11 11:40

    imagine if presidents were elected by way of reality shows - then we'd see how they'd cope with things like fetching a brick from the pool, tying your shoe laces up etc. to me, anyone who wants to be a politician, has no moral fiber as they lie their asses off to get the position or are backed by businesses who want payback when they get into office. or they're just stupid enough to elect a moron like george w bush for 2 terms.

  • fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-11 15:31

    As if turkeys ever voted for Christmas.

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