The Republican hopes jobs message will pry black voters from Obama camp.
Four years ago, Barack Obama captured 95 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, Romney will make a pitch to the nation's premier civil rights group, testing 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 blacks.
Obama is passing up the chance to address the group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and sending Vice President Joe Biden instead.
While blacks are expected to solidly back Obama again this year, he faces challenges in generating the same enthusiasm as in 2008. The level of black turnout could be especially crucial in states such as 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 Romney would need more than an economic message to improve on Sen. 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 NAACP, the 103-year-old group Romney plans to address Wednesday at its annual convention in Houston.
'Issues that we care about'
Jealous said people had heard 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 Wall Street bailouts and how General Motors might have gone bankrupt if Romney had been in the White House.
"If he's going to pick up more support in the black community," Jealous said, "he has to send a message that he's prepared to lead on issues that we care about."
Topping the list is a wave of voter identification laws that Democrats say will suppress minority participation in November.
"We are living through the greatest wave of legislative assaults on voting rights in more than a century," Jealous said Monday in his opening speech at the convention. "In the past year, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow."
Nearly a dozen states have passed strict voter ID 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.
Minnesotans will decide on a voter ID measure in November.
Texas voter ID law in dispute
Texas, as it happens, is one of the states with a tough new law, which is the subject of a federal court hearing in Washington this week as the NAACP meets in Houston.
Romney has rarely weighed in on voter ID laws during the campaign. A spokeswoman for the campaign, Andrea Saul, summarized his position in an e-mail: "Governor Romney believes that every legal vote should count."