Mitt Romney told the NAACP on Wednesday that President Obama has made it worse for African-Americans “in almost every way.”
“If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone,” Romney told the nation’s leading civil rights group at their national convention in Houston, Texas. “Instead, it’s worse for African-Americans in almost every way. The unemployment rate, the duration of unemployment, average income and median family wealth are all worse for the black community."
Romney on Wednesday delivered an aggressive speech to a potentially-hostile audience. He acknowledged the historic nature of Obama’s 2008 campaign, in which he became the country’s first black president, but also made the case for his own candidacy.
“I can’t promise that I will agree on every issue, but I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned,” Romney said, earning applause and a swell of organ music. He also promised that he would say “yes” if invited back to speak at the convention next year as president, likely a dig at Obama, who is not scheduled to speak to the conference this year.
Romney earned mild applause during his speech but spoke to a seemingly skeptical crowd. He earned the loudest response — widespread “boos” — when he referred to his pledge to repeal “ObamaCare,” the president’s healthcare reform legislation. But Romney, who paused to let the crowd respond, deviated from his prepared remarks to double-down on his pledge.
“I say again, if our priority is jobs, and that’s my priority, that’s something I’d change,” Romney said, referring to a study indicating that the healthcare law makes employers less likely to hire.
"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," the presumptive GOP nominee said. "I want you to know that if I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of color — and families of any color — more than the policies and leadership of President Obama, I would not be running for president."
The campaign is hoping that the 14.4 percent unemployment among African-Americans — well above the national average of 8.2 — will make them more amenable to Romney’s argument. The former Massachusetts governor told the group that Obama’s economic policies are creating similar barriers to those that civil rights activists fought hard to remove.
“If someone had told us in the 1950s or '60s that a black citizen would serve as the 44th president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised,” Romney said. “Picturing that day, we might have assumed that the American presidency would be the very last door of opportunity to be opened. Before that came to pass, every other barrier on the path to equal opportunity would surely have to come down.
“Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way. Many barriers remain. Old inequities persist. In some ways, the challenges are even more complicated than before. And across America — and even within your own ranks — there are serious, honest debates about the way forward.”
He acknowledged the "venerable" status of the NAACP several times in his speech, and referred to the history of the organization.
"This is an honor to address you and one I had not expected," he told them.
“I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle-class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty and will help prevent people from becoming poor,” Romney said. “My campaign is about helping the people who need help. The course the president has set has not done that — and will not do that. My course will.”
Romney also emphasized education, which earlier in the primary season he referred to as “the civil-rights issue of our era.”
The presumptive GOP nominee said he will “give the parents of every low-income and special-needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school,” and will link federal education funds to the student, which he said will open the opportunity for children of poor families to attend charter and private schools.
“If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, black families could send their sons and daughters to public schools that truly offer the hope of a better life,” Romney said. “Instead, for generations, the African-American community has been waiting and waiting for that promise to be kept. Today, black children are 17 percent of students nationwide — but they are 42 percent of the students in our worst-performing schools.”
Romney noted that Vice President Biden is scheduled to follow him the next day at the convention, speaking to the group on Thursday. He joked, "I just hope the Obama campaign doesn't think you're playing favorites."
— This story was originally posted at 10:01 a.m. and updated at 11:19 a.m.