Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Black Group Gives Romney Cold Reception ; Reaction to Republican Shows Challenge He Faces Eroding Obama's Support

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Black Group Gives Romney Cold Reception ; Reaction to Republican Shows Challenge He Faces Eroding Obama's Support

Article excerpt

The challenge Mitt Romney faces to chip into President Obama's support among black American voters was illustrated by the stony reception he received Wednesday from a black rights group.

The challenge before Mitt Romney as he seeks to chip into President Barack Obama's near monolithic support among black American voters became clear on Wednesday as the presumptive Republican candidate addressed a storied civil rights group and was met with a stony reception.

The reaction was most jarring when Mr. Romney told members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that as president he would act to repeal the Obama health care plan -- a guaranteed applause line before conservative groups -- and the crowd erupted into prolonged booing and a chorus of jeers.

A tense-looking Mr. Romney said that he knew his party had a mixed record on race relations and that people might wonder why "a Republican would bother to campaign in the African-American community" against a black president who won 95 percent of that community's vote in 2008.

But he insisted that he hoped to represent every American, "from the poorest to the richest, and everyone in between."

The reaction to his health-care vow was the worst moment for Mr. Romney in an often rocky 25-minute speech to an annual N.A.A.C.P. convention in Houston. When his remarks did draw applause, it was tepid.

The former Massachusetts governor tried to appeal to the black community with promises of more jobs, better schools and support for families, while also offering some policy prescriptions unpopular with the group. Among other things, he promised to stand up to the country's powerful teachers' unions -- whose members include many thousands of blacks.

Mr. Romney seemed to be gambling that making even a small dent in Mr. Obama's black support could matter in a close presidential election, and that an appeal to diverse audiences might impress independent voters. The black vote could prove crucial in swing states like North Carolina and Virginia.

Many in the audience gave Mr. Romney credit for speaking to the group, but said they were frustrated with parts of his speech.

"I give him thumbs up for being courageous," said William Braxton, 59, a retiree from Maryland, with a chuckle. "He was courageous without a doubt."

But while responses to Mr. Romney during the speech were lukewarm at best, when he said that he would "eliminate every non-essential expensive program I can find, that includes Obamacare," the crowd began to boo, the first of several such instances.

Mr. Romney reacted by grinning nervously, deviating slightly from his prepared remarks, and trying gamely to explain his position.

"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," Mr. …

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