One presidential candidate will address the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization this week — and it’s not the one who enjoyed record support from the black community four years ago.
Mitt Romney, not President Obama, will speak Wednesday in Houston at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, seeking to make inroads with the president’s most loyal supporters.
Though Obama is likely to enjoy an overwhelming advantage among black voters in November, some said he won’t receive the same level of enthusiasm from those who propelled him to victory in 2008.
“Obama isn’t addressing the crisis of unemployment in the black community,” said Deneen Borelli, director of outreach for FreedomWorks, an influential national Tea Party group. “You can’t refute the facts. For some, Obama is radioactive right now.”
The overall unemployment rate stayed at 8.2 percent in June, but joblessness spiked among black Americans, rising almost a full percentage point to 14.4 percent. In addition, Obama’s public endorsement of same-sex marriage angered some black religious leaders, who accused the president of valuing political expediency over traditional values.
Many analysts question whether Obama can match the massive voter turnout he inspired in the black community during his last White House bid. But reaching that benchmark depends partially on how Romney is perceived by a voting bloc that remains suspicious of his candidacy.
Like he did with a recent speech before Latino leaders in Washington, Romney is likely to focus on rampant unemployment and floundering school systems in urban environments nationwide.
“He does have a window if he sticks to that economic argument,” Borelli said. “It could at least get people to listen. It’s very telling that Obama is not going [to the NAACP conference.]”
In his place, Obama is sending Vice President Biden, who will tout Obama’s health care overhaul and other policies popular with the Demo- cratic base.
“African-Americans will continue to support President Obama because they recognize that he has been fighting for policies that give everyone a fair shot and the opportunity to succeed,” said an Obama campaign spokeswoman. “That’s a sharp con- trast to Mitt Romney, who believes we can cut our way to prosperity.”
But the president’s absence angered some black voters, who argued that Obama had failed to meet their admittedly sizable expectations. “He knows we’re going to get in line no matter what,” said Michael Ward, a District resident. “So yeah, sometimes it seems like he takes us for granted. He should go to the conference, but frankly, it’s his record that concerns me the most.” As for Romney, some Republican operatives said he should refrain from forceful attacks on Obama, noting the terrain at the event is favorable for the president.
“If he wasn’t there, it’d be spun as a slap to the black community,” said one veteran GOP strategist. “But Romney should stick to a broad economic blue-print without throwing haymakers at Obama. He doesn’t want to get booed out of the room.”
Republicans have had a tumultuous relationship with the NAACP in years past.
As a candidate in 1996, former Sen. Bob Dole refused to speak before the NAACP, accusing the group’s leaders of a “setup.” President George W. Bush spoke to the NAACP in 2000 but then declined the group’s invitation the next five years. Arizona Sen. John McCain addressed the organization just two days after then-Sen. Obama in 2008.