Presumptive Republican US presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney ventured into the heart of US President Barack Obama’s support base on Wednesday, drawing loud boos from African-Americans when he vowed to repeal the president’s healthcare reforms.
Romney’s address to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the US’ oldest and largest civil rights group, was billed as a brave appeal to a voting demographic that overwhelmingly favors his opponent.
It was certainly a tough crowd and some cackled when Romney said: “If you want a president who will make things better in the -African-American community, you are looking at him.”
Polite applause for his pro-jobs pitch was accompanied by some raised eyebrows when he said Obama had left the economy “worse for African-Americans in almost every way.”
However, he ran into what was perhaps the most negative reaction to anything he has said on his year-long White House campaign when his pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act was met with loud and sustained boos.
“I think we expected that of course, but you know I’m going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country,” Romney told Fox News hours later.
Blacks voted overwhelmingly for Obama over then-Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain in 2008, but with US unemployment above 8 percent for 41 straight months and a recent spike up to 14.4 percent jobless among blacks, Romney aims to win over disaffected voters.
The NAACP jeers exposed the uphill battle he faces in convincing minority voters he is the best man for the White House.
Wednesday marked a sensitive time for healthcare, with the Republican-led US House of Representatives voting to repeal the law, although the effort is almost certain to fail in the Democratic-led US Senate.
In his speech, Romney addressed the need to curb government spending.
“To do that, I’m going to eliminate every nonessential expensive program that I can find,” he said. “That includes Obamacare.”
Before he could finish his sentence, the boos rained down loudly, lasting more than 20 seconds.
While it was an awkward moment to be sure, it was also seen as courageous of the Republican to stand before a pro-Obama crowd and sell his political platform. Supporters took to Twitter to praise his determination.
However, NAACP president Benjamin Jealous said Romney’s repeal pledge showed a “fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of many African-Americans,” millions of whom stand to benefit from healthcare reform.
Romney said that Obama’s presidency, while historic, is leaving many black families behind.
“If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone,” he said. “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.”
Blacks are expected to back Obama in November, but the question in a neck-and-neck race is whether Romney can lure enough black voters to make a difference in swing states like Florida and North Carolina.
McCain won just 5 percent of the black vote, and Romney is aiming to bring the figure closer to the 11 percent that former US president George W. Bush won in 2004.