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NAACP attendees credit Romney for showing up, despite boos


HOUSTON -- Mitt Romney likely didn't win any votes at the national NAACP convention on Wednesday, but the African American atendees gave the presumptive GOP nominee credit nonetheless for trying.

The crowd gathered in Texas for the civil rights group's annual meeting booed Romney for vowing to repeal President Obama's health care reform law.

Evan Vucci / AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks before the NAACP annual convention July 11 in Houston, Texas.

"I'm going to eliminate every non-essential, expensive program I can find. That includes Obamacare," Romney told the overwhelmingly African American membership gathered for his address, as a chorus of boos forced the candidate to stop his speech for fifteen seconds, then veer off script to defend his position.

But this audience was never likely to be a friendly crowd for the presumptive GOP nominee, with African American voters supporting President Obama over John McCain 95 to 4 percent in 2008, and with current polls showing a similar split in this election cycle. Romney made note of the tough room with a joke at the start of his remarks.

"I appreciate the chance to speak first – even before Vice President Biden gets his turn tomorrow," Romney said. "I just hope the Obama campaign won’t think you’re playing favorites." 

Several attendees said after the speech that while they appreciated Romney appearing here, he would never win their support.

"I give him kudos for coming here, I really do. He had nerves," said Betty Bush, a retired auto worker from Alabama, who then added she could think of "nothing," that she agreed with in Romney's remarks.

"I thought it was courageous for him and gracious of him to come, and we really appreciate that," said Steven Goings, who traveled to Texas from Monterrey, California for the convention. "Certainly I disagree with most of what he says, but that's to be expected."

The candidate made several attempts to reach out to the black community specifically in his speech: highlighting his father's work on civil rights in the 1960's, pledging to improve the job market for blacks, who suffer from a disproportionately high 14.4 percent unemployment rate, and highlighting his education reform work as Massachusetts governor.

Romney's comments on education -- specifically his often-told story of protecting charter schools in Massachusetts with the help of the black caucus in the Massachusetts legislature -- appeared to be the most popular element of his speech today, here in the home city of the successful KIPP charter school system.

"We need Obamacare," said Liz Cotton, a grandmother from Virginia, when asked what she thought of Romney's speech, adding:"I agree with him on Charter schools. I think charter schools are really good."

Campaign officials said they were pleased with the reception Romney received overall, noting many of his positions -- including pushing back against China on trade issues -- earned notable applause. Several political analysts also noted today that Romney's audience today was broader than just those in the room if he could appeal to moderates and independents just by showing up at the convention. (As the Republican nominee in 2008 John McCain also spoke to the group, as did then-Senator Obama, who begged off this year citing scheduling conflicts)

But on the economic argument that he could be a better president for people of all colors in America -- the core of Romney's campaign message -- Romney appeared to make little headway with this audience.

"I wouldn't say there was nothing to his argument," said Goings, offering faint praise, and adding that he would "certainly" be voting for Obama again this year.

Romney was interrupted with boos twice more for criticizing the president in the course of a twenty five minute address to an audience that was likely the least-supportive one he has spoken to all campaign season. He earned only smatterings of applause for his policy positions, but ultimately receiving a brief, cordial standing ovation from the several hundred attendees as he wrapped up his remarks.