GUY RAZ, HOST:
During the last presidential election, Barack Obama won over 95 percent of the African-American vote. And this November, he's widely expected to recapture most of those voters. Even so, Republicans - at their convention this week - looked for ways to appeal to black Americans. Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: When Republicans met in Tampa, the convention hall was packed with delegates, primarily white. It wasn't until gospel star BeBe Winans and the Tampa Bay City Life Church Chorus came out on stage, that there was any sizable number of African-Americans around.
(SOUNDBITE OF RNC PERFORMANCE)
CORLEY: The RNC did have several African-Americans lined up for prominent speaking spots. There was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; congressional candidate Mia Love, who might become the first female black Republican in Congress, if she wins; and former Democratic Alabama congressman Artur Davis. He switched to the Republican Party, after a failed run for governor. And in 2008, Davis actually introduced President Obama during the Democratic convention.
(SOUNDBITE OF RNC SPEECH)
ARTUR DAVIS: It turned out, I was in the wrong place.
DAVIS: So Tampa, my fellow Republicans, thank you for welcoming me where I belong.
CORLEY: But there was still a sizable chasm between those on stage, and those sitting in front of it. The Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies puts the number of African-American delegates at the Republican convention at 46 - about 2 percent of the delegate population. And a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney 94 to 0 percent among blacks.
At the convention hall, Evern Ford, a lifelong black Republican and alternate delegate from New Jersey, says a shared conservative ideology may bring some blacks into the party. He also says while Republicans may not get a significant number of African-American support in November, that doesn't mean Romney should write off the black vote.
EVERN FORD: I think that's a big mistake. I think you need to embrace - you know, they - again, he needs to be out there, reaching out to the African community, to see his values and bring them on board.
CORLEY: Getting them on board might be harder, given some of the tone of Romney's campaign ads. New commercials about welfare, where he claims President Obama has gutted the program's work requirement, have many calling foul.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
CORLEY: During a protest rally, Angel Buechner - with the Welfare Rights Committee, in Minneapolis - calls the ads race-baiting code language and bad form, since the work requirement remains.
ANGEL BUECHNER: They're always talking about cuts. They're always talking about taking away. They're never talking about building up anybody, or helping people get out of the cycle of welfare.
CORLEY: On top of that, many African-Americans believe Republicans are going out of their way setting up restrictions, to make it harder for them - and others - to vote. Republicans deny any ill motives, and hope their focus on the economy and the high black unemployment rate - of about 14 percent - will prompt African-Americans to consider the Republican Party.
On NPR's show TELL ME MORE, Romney adviser Tara Wall, who focuses on outreach to African-Americans, said that as black Americans get to know more about Romney, they'll understand his commitment to the community.
(SOUNDBITE OF NPR'S "TELL ME MORE")
TARA WALL: He has done things to bring down unemployment; to close the educational gap between black and white students - as governor; and really does have a plan to get this economy back on track. That will benefit black small businesses, the unemployment rate in the black community. It begins with free enterprise.
CORLEY: Whether that approach will sell in the black community could decide close races in states like Florida, Virginia and North Carolina - three crucial battleground states this fall.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Tampa.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.