Romney’s African American Appeal

By Cynthia Griffin
Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly Newspaper

Outreach seen as must

California Republicans Tuesday overwhelmingly voted for Gov. Mitt Romney as their choice for the party’s presidential nominee. More than 1.1 million (or 79.6 percent) of votes cast went to the politician from Massachusetts. Ron Paul came in a distant second, winning only 10.2 percent of ballots.

Bear Flag state Republicans followed the actions of four high-profile Black Republicans, including former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who have also endorsed the former Massachusetts govenor for president.

Two of those individuals—South Carolina Congressman Tim Scott and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—have even had vice presidential contender attached to their names by various sources.

Scott, who threw his endorsement behind the Republican nominee in late April, is a freshman legislator described as a “Tea Party favorite.” Just prior to the South Carolina primary, he was heavily courted by the Republican presidential candidates, but in the end chose Romney.

“It’s time for the Republican party and all conservatives to rally behind our nominee. We have our nominee. His name is Mitt Romney. We’re very excited to be on the Mitt train,” Scott was quoted saying on Fox News.

Scott has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate but said in early May that he had not had any “serious conversations” with the Romney team.

Rice, the first African American woman to become secretary of state, endorsed Romney at a Bay Area fundraiser at the end of May.

“We care about the future of this country and the future of the world, and I’m delighted to join so many friends here in supporting and, in my case, endorsing Gov. Mitt Romney for president of the United States,” Rice said.

“If America is going to rebuild its strength at home, rebuild its sense of who we are, it needs a leader that also understands how really exceptional the United States of America is, and is not afraid to lead on the basis of that exceptionalism. The only thing that people dislike more than unilateral American leadership is no American leadership at all,” Rice said to the 300 donors present at the fundraiser.

Rice, also had earlier been touted by some as a vice presidential candidate. But decisively rejected such a notion.

“He’ll find a fine vice president. Somebody who actually wants to run for office would be a good start,” Rice told one news outlet in early May.

Cain endorsed Romney in mid-May, after first suspending his own bid for the nomination due to fallout from claims of sexual harassment and an extramarital affair, and then throwing his support to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“The numbers are on Mitt Romney’s side, and yes, I am always saying I will support whoever the nominee is, and it looks like Mitt Romney’s going to be that nominee, and we do need to get behind him,” Cain said in April.

Although he has secured the 1,144 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination, Romney will not be officially named the party’s choice until the Republican convention this August in Tampa, Fla.

So who is Romney and how do his beliefs resonate with African American voters?
Romney was born in Detroit, Mich., and his father, George, would later go on to serve as governor of the state.

The junior Romney graduated from Brigham Young University in 1971. He subsequently earned dual degrees from Harvard Law and Harvard Business School. After working as a business consultant for several years, Romney founded the investment firm Bain Capital in 1984. Under his leadership, Bain Capital helped to launch or rebuild hundreds of companies, including household names such as Staples, Bright Horizons, and Sports Authority.

In 2002, he was elected governor of Massachusetts, and was, according to Democratic state legislator Benjamin Swan, a much more moderate Mitt Romney than he sounds today.

“He tried to be as moderate as he could be. He wouldn’t have come close to getting elected in Massachusetts talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about now,” said Swan, adding that he believes Romney has swung very far to the right in an effort to win the Republican nomination.

Swan, who is African American and represents the Springfield region of the state, described Romney as a “lousy governor, who used the governorship as a means of enhancing his resume.”
During his term as governor, among the acts he took that alarmed African American legislators was signing an executive order that eliminated the state’s Office of Affirmative Action (OAA) and replaced it with the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity. He also formulated a Diversity and Equal Opportunity Advisory Council on which Swan served.

The elected official described the council as a body that was supposed to advise the administration, but in his opinion just held meetings.

The OAA was responsible for investigating discrimination complaints and litigating those that had merit, but Swan said that under Romney, there was a “de-emphasis” on the office and its activities.

As governor, Romney did have a few African Americans in his cabinet, including Jennifer Davis Carey, head of Elder Affairs. (Editor’s note: OW contacted Carey about on her tenure with Romney, but she refused to comment.)

Another high-ranking African American woman, Jane C. Edmonds, as head of Workforce Development, reported to the cabinet-level Commonwealth Development Department.

Diversity is one issue that has surfaced in relation to Romney’s campaign staff, but according to Tara Wall, senior communication advisor with the campaign and the most senior African American on staff, the racial makeup of the senior staff is diverse.

Wall described Romney as a family man, a man of God, a compassionate leader whose No. 1 goal is listening.

In fact, the candidate has embarked on listening tours where he will talk with experts and ordinary people on issues of concern.

She said, he particularly wants to examine the disparities between Blacks and Whites that continue to exist and will rely on experts like former Secretary of Education Rod Paige to help understand how and why the disparities exist and to determine how they can be eliminated.
Paige, selected by George W. Bush as the first African American to serve as secretary of education, held the post from 2001-2005.

Romney just recently named Paige to his Education Roundtable Advisory Board.

Wall counts Paige as among the African American advisors the Republican candidate will turn to for assistance in crafting his education policy.

A centerpiece of Romney’s approach to education is listening to what parents want for their children, said Wall, adding that one thing he has heard urban school parents and educators talking about is the need for school choice.

“ . . . the money should follow the students, whether it is to public, charter or whatever school, the money should follow the student,” said Wall.

Additionally, Wall said Romney intends to make reforms to the “No Child Left Behind Act” that will incorporate the concept of choice.

Another agenda Romney would push, if elected president, is reforming the tax code, including cutting the corporate tax rate by 25 percent; cutting the individual tax rate by 20 percent, and broadening the tax base.

He is also in favor of removing some of the onerous regulations that he believes are weighing down business, particularly small firms

When it comes to the criminal justice system, Wall said Romney again will look at the areas where there are huge disparities for Blacks and incorporate expert advice on developing policies. But she could not specifically detail what he would do.

Wall said the Romney campaign recognizes the challenges it faces in trying to bring African Americans to seriously consider its candidate. “Overall, we are going to focus on coalition-building and tapping into the base of Black Republicans and undecided voters.”

According to one Howard University professor, reaching out to African Americans and other minorities is a must for Romney, not because of the actual votes that might be won but because of the message it sends.

“He has to show the capability of building coalitions by a symbolic and substantial appeal to those who might be considered way out of range,” said Lorenzo Morris, a political analyst and professor of political science.

This outreach, shows moderate Whites that a candidate and by extension, a president, is willing to work with everyone, noted the professor.

“I remember well that Herbert Walker Bush had affinity associations, campaign and interest groups (among minorities), but I don’t see that with Romney,” said Morris.

The political analyst notes that there are a number of states where minorities comprise enough of the electorate to change an election outcome—Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and Florida.

Morris also points out that Romney does not want to alienate Black voters to the point that they feel the need to go out and vote for Barack Obama. Nor does he want to anger Hispanic voters by ignoring them, because of their growing numbers.

If he so chooses, Romney will have opportunities to appeal to African American voters in the coming months, because there are a number of major Black organizations that will hold national conventions, and some of them—the NAACP and National Urban League—have already extended invitations to both presidential candidates to address their gatherings or will soon do so.

Obama and Romney: how they stand on five issues
Agreeing to disagree

Healthcare
Obama has achieved major success in overhauling the nation’s healthcare system, provided the Supreme Court upholds the administration’s plan that almost everyone obtain insurance. Under Obama’s plan, insurers can no longer deny coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions. The plan would aid small businesses in providing coverage and would provide tax credits for low-income and middle-income people to subsidize premiums, among other provisions.

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Romney believes such healthcare laws should be in the province of individual states, not the federal government. But he supports protections for those who have been covered continuously for a certain period of time so that they would not lose coverage due to illness. Romney prefers medical savings accounts that can be used for insurance premiums as well as personal medical costs.

Economy
Obama has presided over a term marked by high unemployment, a recession begun during the Bush administration and high rates of joblessness. He instituted a roughly $800 billion stimulus plan that cut significantly into the jobless rate, but unemployment continues to hover above 8 percent nationally. He continued the Wall Street and auto industry bailouts begun under Bush. In attempting to bring jobs back to the U.S. from abroad, he has proposed tax breaks for those who have exported jobs, as well as for U.S. manufacturers that have kept jobs in the states.

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Romney proposes lower taxes, less regulation, a balanced budget, more trade deals, and replacing jobless benefits with unemployment savings accounts. He would like to see the repeal of tough laws instituted to reign in the financial industry after the nation’s banking disaster. He would also repeal the law tightening accounting regulations put into place after the nation’s corporate scandals, to ease the accountability burden on smaller businesses.

Education
Obama has approved waivers that relieve states of the many requirements of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law in effort to improve preparation and evaluation of students. He also instituted competitive rewards for states with billions of dollars for pursuing his administration’s education policies. He has won approval for a college tax credit worth up to $10,000 over four years and more money for Pell grants for low-income college students.

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Romney was a supporter of “No Child Left Behind” law, but admits that Obama’s competition between states, called “Race to the Top,” of student testing, charter-school incentives and teacher evaluation standards have merit.

Abortion, birth control
Obama is a firm longtime supporter of abortion rights. His healthcare plan requires that contraceptives be available for women as part of their workplace health plans, including morning-after pills. The plan has received staunch opposition from conservatives, both political and religious.

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Romney previously supported abortion rights, but now opposes them. He believe such issues should fall under the purview of the individual states. He says Roe v. Wade should be reversed, but the government should abide by it until such time as it is reversed.

Gay rights
Obama, who once only supported civil unions, recently came out in support of same-sex marriage. He also opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, which he once supported. The law prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages and gives states the right to refuse to recognize such marriages.

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Romney believes gay marriage should be banned and he would favor a constitutional amendment that does just that. Marriage, he feels, is a policy that falls within the purview of the federal government and not the states.