When Crystal Wright, conservative commentator and principal of the public relations firm the Baker Wright Group, learned that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had agreed to address the NAACP at its annual convention in Houston July 11, her initial reaction was: What is he thinking? In her opinion, the National Urban League would have been a much better fit.
"I hope he knows what he's getting into," Wright told BET.com.
Her advice for Romney is to focus on the economy and how African-Americans have fared under President Obama, without demonizing him, and the fact that their unemployment rate is almost double the national average. In addition, Romney needs to explain what he would have done differently.
"Romney needs to stick to the fact that the first Black president has in many ways let Black people down more than the rest of Americans. He needs to hone in on the president's economic record," she said, adding that traditional family and social values and school choice are other issues on which African-Americans and Republicans are aligned.
Wright also said that Romney will need to address what she described as the GOP's "credibility gap" with Black voters by making it clear that his speech is just the first step in what will be an ongoing conversation between himself the African-American community.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver applauds Romney's willingness to address the nation's oldest civil rights organization, but said that the group "wants to hear what Romney cannot say," such as he'd be a president who is open to issues that are important to African-Americans and poor people.
"To say that would cost him votes in his party, so that's not going to happen," Cleaver said. "But [Black] organizations, particularly ones like the NAACP, ought to hear from all presidential candidates and the candidates ought to have to think about their relationship with African-Americans."
Romney may invoke his father, George Romney, a former Michigan governor and failed presidential candidate, who aggressively promoted civil rights.
"But he doesn't have his father's record," noted George Mason University political scientist Michael Fauntroy. "Remember, this is the same guy who stood up at CPAC and said he was 'severely conservative' as [Massachusetts] governor. Severe conservatives don't support the sorts of things that George Romney supported."
Bringing up his father, Fauntroy warned, would only invite comparisons that highlight how not moderate Romney is.
"If he can get off of that stage without putting his foot in his mouth," Fauntroy chuckled, "I think he'll be alright."
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(Photo: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)