US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on July 10, 2012 (Getty Images)
HOUSTON -- Mitt Romney told the NAACP Wednesday that he has the "best interest" of all Americans at heart, and outlined why he believes President Obama has failed blacks on issues such as the economy and education.
"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 during his remarks in Houston.
"My campaign is about helping the people who need help. The course the president has set has not done that -- and not do that," Romney said. "My course will."
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee was applauded at times in his remarks, which invoked Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. But the audience booed him at his mention of "Obamacare," the national health care law that Romney has vowed he will repeal.
At that point, Romney veered off script to discuss a recent Chamber of Commerce survey showing people believe the law will cost jobs. He vowed to replace the health care law with something else that would help lower costs, and briefly touched on how he would make Social Security and Medicare solvent.
The Republican has an uphill battle with African Americans, who have voted Democrats into the White House for decades. In 2008, Obama won 96% of the African-American vote on his way to making history as the nation's first black president.
As he has in speeches before Hispanic groups, Romney framed his appeal to black voters through an economic lens.
"If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone," Romney said. "Instead, it's worse for African Americans in almost every way."
He pointed to the 14.4% unemployment rate among blacks, as well as average income and median family wealth as being worse for black families.
Romney also discussed his support for changes in education, such as providing federal funds so parents can have a choice in where to send their children to school. "I will be a champion of real education reform in America, and I won't let any special interest get in my way," he will say.
The fact that Romney even addressed the nation's oldest civil rights group is noteworthy, given the history of some recent GOP presidential candidates and the NAACP. He promised that, if elected, he would accept the group's invitation to speak -- in an apparent swipe at Obama, who is not attending the conference this year.
Bob Dole declined the group's invitation in 1996. George W. Bush spoke to the NAACP in 2000 but then skipped the group's annual convention for five years while he was president.
Romney also invoked the civil rights legacy of his father. When George Romney was governor of Michigan, he wrote the civil rights provision of the state's constitution. As a member of the Nixon administration, the elder Romney fought to end discrimination in housing.
In 1964, the elder Romney declined to back Barry Goldwater as the GOP presidential nominee because of concerns that the Arizonan was vying for the votes of white segregationists in the South. And in the run-up to his own 1968 presidential bid, George Romney toured urban areas decimated by race riots in Detroit and other cities.
"More than these public acts, it was the kind of man he was, and the way he dealt with every person, black or white," Romney said about his father. "He was a man of the fairest instincts, and a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God."
President Obama will not speak to the group this year, but Vice President Biden will speak to the group on Thursday.