Vice President Joe Biden’s used his red-meat speech at the NAACP convention to deride Gov. Mitt Romney’s promise to push for charter schools, which are strongly supported by many lower-income African-American parents.
Biden’s jibes are significant because they’re a tacit admission that Romney’s promise may attract a significant number of African-American votes and may reduce November turnout for Obama.
“Look, education doesn’t play a central role in the Romney Republican vision of the future of America,” Biden told the NAACP’s annual convention July 12.
“It’s on the back burner, it’s not a priority,” he claimed to the audience of African-Americans, who are vital to Obama’s prospects in November.
Biden’s dig came one day after Romney pushed his charter school plan to the NAACP attendees, many of whom are employed in local schools.
“In Boston, in Harlem, in Los Angeles, and all across the country, charter schools are giving children a chance, children that otherwise could be locked in failing schools,” Romney declared.
While Massachusetts Democrats tried to stop charter schools, “I vetoed the bill [and] joined with the Black Legislative Caucus, and their votes helped preserve my veto, which meant that new charter schools, including some in urban neighborhoods, would be opened,” he declared, prompting some applause.
He also was applauded when he announced his support for marriage. That statement was a contrast with Obama, who has alienated some African-Americans by calling for child-oriented marriage to be refined to encompass single-sex partnerships.
Romney’s evocation of religious faith and his support for racial equality also prompted applause from the audience, which gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
Romney’ aides dismissed Biden’s comments about charter schools.
“As governor, Mitt Romney worked with the Massachusetts Black Caucus to uphold his veto on a charter school moratorium,” said spokesman Ryan Williams. “He believes that it is important to expand access to high quality public charter schools.” (RELATED: Obama aides slam Romney as possible felon)
The NAACP speech was the second time that Romney has highlighted his support of charter schools — and the second time that Democrats have rushed to denounce it.
In May, Romney visited Bluford Charter School, a charter school in Philadelphia to highlight his support for charter schools to African-Americans. Most of the students in the school are African-American, and the school is run by a charter-school firm, Universal Companies.
That was an aggressive move, because it was aimed at Obama’s base in the largest city in swing-state Pennsylvania.
Multiple polls shows that African-Americans are the strongest supporters of charter schools.
A July poll of 528 registered voters in swing-state North Carolina showed that 70 percent of state residents — but 85 percent of African-Americans — support charter schools. The poll was conducted by the Center for Education Reform.
An April 2011 poll of New Jersey residents by Rutgers-Eagleton showed that 31 percent of whites and 52 percent of African-Americans support charter schools.
A November 2011 poll in California showed that 52 percent of registered voters had a favorable view of charter schools. “African American respondents expressed the most support for charter schools,” said a Los Angeles Times article about the poll of 1,057 registered voters, which was conducted by a Democratic polling firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.
In response, Democratic Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter brought his Democratic allies into the neighborhood to heckle the May Romney event, and also to hold a press conference where he could slam Romney’s offer.
“Romney has always opposed investing in our children’s education … which is why I don’t understand why he is here today,” Nutter claimed.
Romney’s push for charter schools follows the successful GOP effort to restore federal funding for charter schools in D.C.
That effort was led by House Speaker John Boehner. Most of the D.C. charter-school students are African-American, and their parents protested vigorously when Obama nearly eliminated the program in 2009.
Obama sends his two children to Sidwell Friends School in D.C., at an annual cost of roughly $30,000 each.