Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will make his first public debut to African American voters this morning, with an address at the NAACP annual conference in Houston. Romney faces an obvious uphill battle to win over a solidly Democratic constituency that opposes most of his policies and is, for the most part, strongly committed to President Barack Obama. The general consensus among Democrats and most Republicans is that today’s speech won’t do much to help Romney take African American votes from Obama. Republican leaders contend, however, that the speech is still important for the party going forward, as the GOP continues to bleed support among minority voters.
The speech comes at a particularly tense moment between African American voters and the GOP. Issues like voter I.D. bills and the House contempt vote against Eric Holder, the nation’s first black attorney general, have riled civil rights leaders, and activated the African American base against Republicans. As the presumptive leader of his party, Romney will have to walk a fine line between assuaging those concerns, while still standing behind his party’s legislative agenda.
Here is some of what he plans to say this morning:
You all know something of my background, and maybe you’ve wondered how any Republican ever becomes governor of Massachusetts in the first place. Well, in a state with 11 per cent Republican registration, you don’t get there by just talking to Republicans. We have to make our case to every voter. We don’t count anybody out, and we sure don’t make a habit of presuming anyone’s support. Support is asked for and earned – and that’s why I’m here today. …
…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. I want you to know that if I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of colour — and families of any colour — more than the policies and leadership of President Obama, I would not be running for president. …
… I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor. My campaign is about helping the people who need help. The course the President has set has not done that – and will not do that. My course will.
When President Obama called to congratulate me on becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, he said that he, quote, “looked forward to an important and healthy debate about America’s future.” To date, I’m afraid that his campaign has taken a different course than that.
If someone had told us in the 1950s or 60s that a black citizen would serve as the 40-fourth president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised. Picturing that day, we might have assumed that the American presidency would be the very last door of opportunity to be opened. Before that came to pass, every other barrier on the path to equal opportunity would surely have to come down.
Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way. Many barriers remain. Old inequities persist. In some ways, the challenges are even more complicated than before. And across America — and even within your own ranks — there are serious, honest debates about the way forward.
If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone. 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. In June, while the overall unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 per cent, the unemployment rate for African Americans actually went up, from 13.6 per cent to 14.4 per cent.
Americans of every background are asking when this economy will finally recover – and you, in particular, are entitled to an answer.
If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, black families could send their sons and daughters to public schools that truly offer the hope of a better life. Instead, for generations, the African-American community has been waiting and waiting for that promise to be kept. Today, black children are 17 per cent of students nationwide – but they are 42 per cent of the students in our worst-performing schools….
When it comes to education reform, candidates cannot have it both ways – talking up education reform, while indulging the same groups that are blocking reform. You can be the voice of disadvantaged public-school students, or you can be the protector of special interests like the teachers unions, but you can’t be both. I have made my choice: As president, I will be a champion of real education reform in America, and I won’t let any special interest get in the way.
I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school. For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted. And I will make that a true choice by ensuring there are good options available to all.
Should I be elected President, I’ll lead as I did when governor. I will look for support wherever there is good will and shared conviction. I will work with you to help our children attend better schools and help our economy create good jobs with better wages.
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