Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will address the annual NAACP convention on July 11 in Houston, Texas, the organization confirmed on Tuesday.
Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for policy and advocacy, told The Huffington Post the NAACP is “delighted” that Romney has accepted its invitation to speak before the group’s full body of delegates.
"It is significant for anyone seeking the highest office in the land to share with the African-American community," said Shelton. "What a candidate would take with them to the White House and what their agenda would be is so important for the African-American community to hear, especially in terms of the challenges to our community."
Shelton said the invitation was extended as soon as Romney secured the requisite number of delegates to clinch the GOP nomination last month. The NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots civil rights organization, typically invites both presidential candidates to speak at its convention each election cycle.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and then-Sen. Barack Obama both addressed the group as presidential candidates in 2008. Shelton could not confirm Obama’s participation this year, but he said the White House told him it is processing the invitation, and the NAACP is “hopeful” the president will attend.
George W. Bush spoke at the convention during his 2000 presidential bid, but once elected, he declined five years’ worth of invitations before finally addressing the group again in 2006.
Shelton said the NAACP would like to see the candidates discuss the rising unemployment rate, which for African Americans is nearly twice the national average.
But, according to Shelton, chief among the issues they expect Romney to address before the group is health care reform, citing the former Massachusetts governor’s assertion that he would repeal the president’s health care law if elected.
"Prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we had 47 million people without health insurance, of which over 30 percent were African American," said Shelton. "We saw the ACA as a big victory to address health insurance disparities in our society. So ‘if not this bill, then what?’ becomes the challenge [Romney] faces."
A campaign spokesperson confirmed Romney’s plans to attend the convention but did not offer further comment.