Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney endured boos during his address to the NAACP on Wednesday, but experts say it was worth his while to show up.
Romney, who is challenging Barack Obama, the country's first African-American president, in the race for the White House, received polite applause for much of his speech that focused largely on the economy and education.
"Free enterprise is still the greatest force for upward mobility, economic security, and the expansion of the middle class," Romney said at the civil rights group's annual convention in Houston. "We have seen in recent years what it's like to have less free enterprise.
The former Massachusetts governor also appealed to the African-American group by staking out his position in favor of "traditional" marriage, marking a contrast with Obama, who recently came out in favor of same-sex marriage. While the NAACP as a group has endorsed the president's decision, the issue is much more divisive in the black community than it is among voters at large.
"Any policy that lifts up and honors the family is going to be good for the country, and that must be our goal," Romney said. "As president, I will promote strong families and I will defend traditional marriage."
But when launching into a portion of his stump speech, Romney was cut off by boos when he vowed to repeal the president's healthcare reform law, nicknamed Obamacare--it's typically an applause line for the Republican.
"I'm going to eliminate every nonessential, expensive program I can find. That includes Obamacare," he said.
Going off his prepared remarks, Romney resorted to citing a Chamber of Commerce survey he often touts that shows three-quarters of businesses say the healthcare law would make them less likely to hire people.
"So I say again, if our priority is jobs, and that's my priority, that's something I'd change," he said. "And I'd replace it with something that provides the people something they need, which is lower costs, good quality, a capacity to deal with people who have pre-existing conditions."
And though Romney declined to outline any specifics about how he would better serve the African-American community than Obama, who received 95 percent of the black vote in 2008, and somewhat predictably quoted Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. in his address, he did not shy away from critiquing the president.
"I know the president will say he's going to do those things, but he has not, he will not, he cannot, and his last four years in the White House prove it, definitively," Romney said. "My agenda is not to put in place a series of policies that get me a lot of attention and applause. I do not have a hidden agenda and I submit to you this--if you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him. You take a look."
There was a definite boldness with which Romney claimed he would better serve African-American voters than Obama, a historic and much beloved figure in the community.
"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," he said. "I want you to know that if I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of color--and families of any color--more than the policies and leadership of President Obama, I would not be running for president."
Michael Fauntroy, professor of public policy at George Mason University, said Romney's appearance would likely be a net positive for his campaign--even if he doesn't score any more of the African-American vote than the 2008 Republican nominee John McCain did.
"Some independent voters would want to know why is it that you don't want to speak to the NAACP but last week you spoke to Hispanic voters? And that's a fair question. So by speaking at the NAACP, he moots that question," Fauntroy says.