The presumptive Republican presidential candidate will address
the largest U.S. civil-rights group and try to pry loose Obama
supporters with his pro-jobs stance.
Four years ago, Barack Obama captured 96 percent of the black vote. But this year, in an election in which every vote may matter, Mitt Romney is not giving up on that front.
On Wednesday, Mr. Romney will make a pitch to the premier American civil rights group, testing President Obama's overwhelming support among black voters by trying to pry away defectors with his pro-jobs message at a time of 14.4 percent unemployment among African-Americans.
Mr. Obama is passing up the chance to address the group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and sending Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. instead.
While blacks are expected to solidly back Mr. Obama again this year, he faces challenges in generating the same enthusiasm as in 2008. The level of black turnout could be crucial in states like North Carolina and Virginia, where black voters had an outsize influence in the president's relatively narrow victories four years ago.
"In 2008, he won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes," said Bill Randall, a black Republican who lost a recent primary for a Congressional seat in the state. But "support is waning" he said, adding that the president's "policies are not doing things that are going to spur economic growth."
Other black leaders said Mr. Romney would need more than an economic message to improve on Senator John McCain's dismal level of black support in 2008 and return to the 11 percent that George W. Bush won in 2004.
"Romney could do much better than John McCain," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., the 103-year-old group Mr. Romney plans to address Wednesday at its annual convention in Houston.
Mr. Jealous said people had heard Mr. Romney's message on jobs and the economy and "it is not resonating with our base," in part because talk of deregulation brings to mind how General Motors might have gone bankrupt if Mr. Romney had been in the White House.
"If he's going to pick up more support in the black community," Mr. Jealous said, "he has to send a message that he's prepared to lead on issues that we care about." Those issues notably include a wave of voter identification laws that Democrats say threaten to suppress minority participation in November.
"We are living through the greatest wave of legislative assaults on voting rights in more than a century," Mr. Jealous said Monday at the convention.
Nearly a dozen states have passed strict voter identification laws in the last two years, largely with the support of Republican lawmakers, who say that they are needed to prevent fraud. Democrats argue that the laws are really meant to suppress turnout by poor and minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic and who disproportionately lack government-issued identification.
The issue surfaced recently when a top Republican official in Pennsylvania said that the state's new voter ID law would allow Mr. Romney to carry the state.
And the Justice Department has found that a Texas law, the subject of a federal court hearing this week in Washington, will "disenfranchise at least 600,000 voters." The state is challenging the ruling.
Mr. Romney has rarely weighed in on voter ID laws. A spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, summarized his position in an e-mail: "Governor Romney believes that every legal vote should count." Although the Romney campaign recently appointed a director of outreach to black voters, most of his courtship of minorities has been focused on Hispanics, who could play a crucial role in swing states like Colorado, Florida and Nevada.
Surveys show that blacks still overwhelmingly support the president. In the latest Gallup weekly tracking poll, 88 percent approved of the job Mr. Obama is doing, far higher than his nationwide approval rating.
But Mr. Jealous said that it would be difficult for the president to inspire the same turnout among blacks as in 2008: The historic import of his candidacy for blacks has passed, and people are still struggling in a stalled economy.
Mr. Obama, who had originally planned to address the N.A.A.C.P., is focused this week on countering a disappointing jobs report released on Friday -- proposing on Monday to extend a middle-class tax cut, a message he repeated Tuesday at events in Iowa.
Mr. Obama's allies, meantime, have undertaken an all-out effort to portray Mr. Romney as a wealthy candidate out of touch with most Americans.
The president's campaign and his surrogates are accusing the presumptive Republican nominee of hiding the sources of his multimillion-dollar fortune.
In an interview with a New Hampshire television station on Monday, Mr. Obama joined the critics, saying that when it comes to presidential candidates, Americans should "know who you are and what you've done and that you're an open book. And that's been true of every presidential candidate dating all the way back to Mitt Romney's father."
As Mr. Biden told a Hispanic group on Tuesday, George Romney, as a presidential hopeful in 1968, released 12 years of tax returns.
Senior aides to Mr. Obama's campaign say the intent is not to attack the rich but to disqualify Mr. Romney's economic credentials in the eyes of voters.
"It's about the fact that Governor Romney, who could be the first president in history to keep his finances offshore, has defied precedent and kept his tax returns secret even though they could prove whether or not he avoided paying taxes," said Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman.
Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for Mr. Romney, called questions about the Republican's wealth "unseemly and disgusting."
The president's advisers and allies are also intensifying their focus on Mr. Romney's financial holdings, seizing on reports by the news media that some of the Republican's personal money is kept in overseas accounts.
The existence of a Swiss bank account was disclosed in January, and advisers say it has been closed. But an article in Vanity Fair magazine last week added new details, saying Mr. Romney has financial interests of at least $30 million in the Cayman Islands, and other holdings in Bermuda.
Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Mr. Romney's campaign, said on Sunday that the Republican candidate "hasn't paid a penny less in taxes by virtue of where these funds are domiciled."
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