Presumptive U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney Wednesday reached out to black voters at the NAACP convention in Houston, saying his policies would help all races. April 24 file photo. UPI/Matthew Healey | License Photo
HOUSTON, July 11 (UPI) -- Presumptive U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Wednesday he expected the boos he received in an address to the NAACP in Houston.
Romney's remarks at the organization's convention received a mixed reaction, including a standing ovation at the end and almost 15 seconds of booing when he said at one point he would eliminate all expensive, non-essential programs, and specifically cited "Obamacare" -- widely thought of as a disparaging reference to the Affordable Care Act.
At a fundraiser in Hamilton, Mont, Wednesday evening, Romney said the booing was "OK," ABC News reported.
"I want people to know what I stand for and if I don't stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that's just fine," he said.
MSNBC reported Romney told his Montana audience: "Remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy -- more free stuff. But don't forget nothing is really free."
Earlier Wednesday, Romney said on Fox News Channel he had "expected" a negative response from the NAACP audience, and he said he expects to get some support from African-American voters.
"I spoke with a number African-American leaders after the event, and they said a lot of folks don't want to say they are not going to vote for Barack Obama but they are disappointed in his lack of policies to improve our schools, disappointed in urban policy, disappointed in the economy," he said.
"I'm running for president because I know my policies and vision will help middle-class families of all races," Romney told the NAACP audience, in an apparent attempt to deflect accusations by Democrats that his policies are geared to benefit the rich at the expense of the middle-class and poor.
Romney said he'll make his case "to every voter," not just Republicans.
"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," Romney 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."
Romney said he recognizes blacks still face serious impediments to equal opportunity.
"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," Romney said, citing an unemployment rate for blacks of 14.4 percent compared to the overall rate of 8.2 percent.
"Americans of every background are asking when this economy will finally recover -- and you, in particular, are entitled to an answer," he said.
Romney also talked about education, saying the administration cannot talk up education reform while kowtowing to teachers unions.
"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," Romney said, voicing support for vouchers.
"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."
Several black officials, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, said Romney's speech at the NAACP gathering was calculated to function as a signal to conservative supporters, ABC News reported.
"He wasn't speaking to the NAACP audience at all," Reed said. "To his base it will make him look strong, but he never stands up to anybody else."
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said Romney was "a character playing a role and virtually perpetrating fraud on the American public with a lot of this stuff."
"He's doing the things he thinks he needs to do," Nutter said. "He's in a campaign. He's doing all kinds of stuff. You can't take any of this stuff seriously."
Romney policy adviser Tara Wall told reporters after the speech Romney "received more applause than boos," including the standing ovation.