Romney To Court African-American Vote At NAACP Convention

By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown
By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown

(CNN) -- Mitt Romney knows he has a problem with African-American voters: Polls show they overwhelmingly prefer President Obama. A recent Gallup tracking poll showed just 5% of blacks supporting Romney, compared with 87% for the president.

But that's not stopping the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee from trying to pick off some black voters.

His latest appeal comes Wednesday. The former Massachusetts governor will address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's oldest civil rights organization. The NAACP is holding its 103rd annual convention in Houston, with particular focus on health and unemployment disparities in the black community and voter ID laws that many feel could deny blacks voting rights come November.

Romney's address is expected to focus heavily on the economy and address the high unemployment rate on the African-American community. But he will also make a direct appeal to its voters.

"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," Romney will say, according to his campaign. "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."

Is it possible for Romney to gain any ground with this group? His campaign acknowledges that attracting more black voters is a long shot.

"Mitt Romney is committed to competing in the black community despite the odds," Romney adviser Tara Wall wrote in a statement e-mailed to CNN. "Not only is it the right thing to do, but Governor Romney has a solid record of bipartisanship and a message for how to address issues impacting every community and all Americans."

Wall continued: "If elected by a majority this November, President Romney will be a leader to all. Speaking to members of the nation's oldest civil rights organization and establishing a dialogue with black voters, communicating his record of achievement and solutions for fixing a broken system of unfulfilled promises is paramount. Unlike President Obama, he will not take any vote for granted."

At the NAACP convention, Romney will face a polite audience that's also a political lion's den of people skeptical of the candidate based on what they've heard during the GOP primary.

"We've watched, in a very concerned way ... all of the Republican debates as they decided who their nominee would be," said Hilary Shelton, the NAACP's Washington bureau director and its senior vice president for policy and advocacy.

"But we're concerned that the questions discussed are not specific to the African-American community. In essence, it is as much the questions that weren't asked as the answers that weren't provided."

Shelton said of special concern is the unemployment rate for African-Americans, which recently rose from 13.6% to 14.4% -- just over 6 points higher than the national jobless rate.

Romney is expected to highlight the stagnant economy in his address and what he would do to improve it.

It's a rare appearance for Romney in front of a predominantly African-American audience. Only one other time recently has he done so: visiting an inner-city school in May in Philadelphia to talk about his education plans.

Can appearances like these -- although scant -- help Romney make up ground with black voters?

In 2008, Obama, the first African-American presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party, captured a near-total lock on the black vote: 95%, to 4% for Sen. John McCain.

This trend of African-Americans overwhelmingly voting for Democrats is not new. In 2004, Sen. John Kerry won the black vote by 77 points over President George W. Bush. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore won by 81 points. And in 1996, President Bill Clinton won the black vote by 72 points over Sen. Bob Dole.

By all measures, the Obama versus Romney race is expected to be tight. In swing states -- especially those with large African-American populations -- the black vote could make a difference.

For example, in 2008 in North Carolina, Obama won the state by just over 14,000 votes -- helped, in part, by 95% of African-Americans there voting for him. Similar scenarios played out in other battleground states with high black populations, like Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

That said, Shelton of the NAACP said she feels that Romney could "surely" capture more black votes -- if the candidate offers economic proposals that appeal to the community.

"African-Americans, like every other demographic in our country ... demographics vote their economic interests," she said. "We want to know that the plan that you have to address the issue of unemployment in our society will also reach us; that we'll see a tailored plan that will recognize that disparity and show us how you make sure we move the entire country forward, but also eliminate that disparity in the process."

"Our history has shown us that when African-Americans came out of slavery, African-Americans overwhelmingly voted Republican ... because Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. Abraham Lincoln moved the policy that freed them from the bondages of slavery."

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