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Romney booed at NAACP


Updated: 3:25 p.m. ET

(CBS News) Addressing a predominantly black audience for just the second time on the campaign trail, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Wednesday took his message to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), delivering a speech that was received with mixed response -- including multiple instances of prolonged boos.

The candidate, whose remarks signaled a commitment to making inroads to black voters, stressed in his speech that he's not "presuming" anyone's support. Particularly emphasizing his commitment to improving America's education system, the former Massachusetts governor outlined a five-point plan for growing the economy and creating jobs.  

As he usually does in such speeches, Romney underscored his commitment to repealing Mr. Obama's health care plan as part of his strategy to turn the economy around.

To create jobs, he said, "I am going to eliminate every non-essential expensive program I can find. That includes Obamacare." His comments were met with extended boos from the audience.

In courting black support, Romney faces familiar barriers

He was also booed when he told the largely black audience that "if you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him."

Despite some resistance among the crowd, Romney emphasized to the audience his belief 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."

He also invoked mention of his father, the former governor of Michigan, for his involvement in the civil rights movement.


"It wasn't just that my dad helped write the civil rights provision for the Mass - excuse me - Michigan Constitution, though he did," Romney said. "It wasn't just that he helped create Michigan's first civil rights commission, or that as governor he marched for civil rights in Detroit - though he did those things, too. More than these public acts, it was the kind of man he was, and the way he dealt with every person, black or white. He was a man of the fairest instincts, and a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God."

Despite the largely positive tone of his speech, Romney did take a dig at Mr. Obama, who declined to attend the conference this year, sending Vice President Joe Biden in his place. 

"I can't promise that you and I will agree on every issue. But I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned," he said. "And if I am elected president, and you invite me to next year's convention, I would count it as a privilege, and my answer will be yes." 

Mr. Obama's campaign did not immediately respond to a query about his decision to skip this year's convention, but he will speak at the National Urban League's 2012 conference on July 25.

Robert Bess, a Democrat from Alabama who attended the speech, told CBS News he found little in Romney's speech that was relevant to his life.

"I thought he was very careful - and as he should be - with his words. I thought that it didn't really cover anything that, to me, was relevant," said Bess, who plans to vote for Mr. Obama. "I thought it was a typical political speech that said, 'Well, I gotta go here because I gotta do the right thing, but I'm going to be safe."

Precious Byrd, another attendee at the convention, said Romney had "some points" but that she still planned to vote for Mr. Obama.

"I think it's pretty bold for him to come here to do a presentation," she told CBS News. "But, you know, he tried. He doesn''t have my vote. I don't really believe in some of the things that he says. And there''s too many things out there that I think are really too questionable to invest in his being our next President.""

In the lead-up to Romney's speech, J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman and currently the chairman of the consulting firm J.C. Watts Companies, expressed similar skepticism as to the significance of Romney's remarks.

"With all due respect to Governor Romney, he's probably doing it to check the box," Watts told CBS News on Tuesday. "Having a Republican candidate speak at the NAACP convention is like trying to build a house starting at the roof. If you don't have a foundation, the roof isn't going to stand."

Michael Steele, who served as the RNC's first black chairman from 2009 to early 2011, expressed a deep frustration with the party for failing, in his eyes, to adequately invest in building up African-American constituencies in the last couple of years. Instead of pounding the pavement in new communities and putting forth black candidates, he argues, "they've thrown up a website and put some black faces on it."

"It's always five months before the presidential election that they're concerned with getting the black vote -- but what about the three years in between?" he wondered, in a Tuesday interview with CBS News. "If the party is serious about not becoming irrelevant by 2016, then get off your ass and engage the people. Address the problems and concerns in an unfiltered way. Have an honest moment in which you recognize where you're falling short, and put on the table your willingness to grow."

Following Romney's remarks Wednesday morning, the NAACP released a statement saying it was "glad" the GOP candidate addressed the convention -- but criticizing the content of his comments.

"While we are glad that Governor Romney recognized the power of the black electorate, he laid out an agenda that was antithetical to many of our interests," said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous in a statement.

In an interview to appear tonight at 8 PM ET on FOX Business Network's (FBN) Cavuto, Romney told anchor Neil Cavuto that he "expected" the crowd at the convention to respond negatively to his comments about repealing health care, but insisted that "While we disagree on some issues like Obamacare, a lot of issues we see eye to eye."

He maintained that he aims to "chip away" at Mr. Obama's lead among black voters.

"The president has not been able to get the job done," he said. "People want to see someone who can get this economy going. I expect to get African American votes."

Sarah Huisenga contributed to this report.

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