HOUSTON - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was greeted with boos and charges that he was "demeaning" and "insulting" Wednesday when he stepped in front of the NAACP to argue that President Obama, the nation's first black president, has done little to improve the lives of African-Americans.
Polite applause gave way to jeers in the three-quarters full auditorium as Romney pledged to repeal Obama's health care reforms and argued that the president's economic policies have done little for black families. Unemployment among African-Americans, Romney noted, jumped from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent in June alone.
"If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone," Romney told the annual convention of the nation's oldest civil rights group. "Instead, it's worse for African-Americans in almost every way."
Romney arrived in Houston Wednesday after a day of campaigning in Colorado, where he received a far more enthusiastic welcome in predominantly Republican areas of the western swing state. His reception in Houston, in front of an audience made up of some of Obama's staunchest supporters, was much different.
"He didn't say anything that's going to change my opinion," said Ed Josey, president of the Staten Island branch of the NAACP, and an Obama supporter.
Polite applause at the start of the program degraded into boos and laughs as Romney criticized Obama and promoted himself as the candidate best able to help the African-American community.
Clayola Brown, a member of the NAACP's National Board of Directors who invited Romney to speak, said it was a mistake for the Republican contender to talk about high unemployment numbers as if his audience was unaware of the problems they themselves face.
"It was insensitive and quite demeaning as a matter of fact," Brown told The Washington Examiner after Romney exited the stage. "Certainly we are aware of what the numbers are and the impact is in our communities. It's the dialogue used that we find insulting."
Romney was invited to address the NAACP not to win over voters already overwhelmingly committed to backing Obama, but to "show respect to the organization," Brown said.
Another board member, Amos Brown, of San Francisco, called Romney's address, "an insult to the NAACP," including his references to the importance of family.
"For him to come here and lecture us about the family -- he doesn't need to be talking to Negros about that," Brown said. "Who tore up the family?"
Romney offered himself as a candidate for everyone, a leader who could particularly "make things better" in the black community by helping African-Americans find jobs.
The audience laughed. And booed.
"I think he tried to be sincere but I don't think he's for the poor, or the middle class," Ethel Taylor, of Toledo, Ohio, told The Examiner. "I don't think he could care less."
Romney adviser Tara Wall said she heard plenty of applause for Romney in the crowd and that she believes his message was well-received.
"Yes there is disagreement, there is going to be disagreement," Hall said. "He actually received more applause than boos. There was much more agreement overall. At the end of the day its a message that has to be told."