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Joe Biden fires up NAACP. Where was President Obama?

The NAACP crowd booed Mitt Romney, and polls say that the president could win at least 95 percent of the African-American vote. Still, Obama may need that and more in key states.

By Staff writer / July 12, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden greets participants after addressing the NAACP annual convention on Thursday in Houston.

Pat Sullivan/AP

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Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday delivered a fiery speech defending Obama administration priorities to the NAACP annual meeting in Houston. His basic theme: For working-class black families, President Obama’s agenda is better than challenger Mitt Romney’s.

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Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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“I think Mitt Romney is a fine family man. I believe he’s driven by what he believes. But the differences are so basic about how we view the future of America,” said Mr. Biden.

For instance, education does not play a central role in Mr. Romney’s vision of the US, while it does for Mr. Obama, charged Biden. Romney opposes government support for the development of renewable-energy sources and efforts to equalize pay between men and women.

Biden drew perhaps his most enthusiastic crowd response when he said that the incumbent administration wants to expand voting rights, not diminish them. In a number of states, Republicans have led efforts to require that voters produce identification – a requirement that Attorney General Eric Holder has derided as a “poll tax” designed to suppress minority votes.

“Folks, there is a lot more to say, but this is preaching to the choir,” said Biden, stating the obvious as the audience applauded.

Polls show that Obama should win upwards of 95 percent of the African American vote, so in many ways Biden’s reception was foreordained. The pastor who led the invocation to open the day’s proceedings listed how the NAACP had been “blessed” to hear from a number of prominent individuals, but left that word out when referring to the presumptive GOP nominee, saying only that “we’ve heard also from Mitt Romney."

The NAACP crowed booed Romney on Wednesday when he vowed that if elected he’d repeal Obama's health care law. The audience did applaud some Romney pronouncements, such as his statement of opposition to gay marriage, and gave him a polite standing ovation at his end.

Given this context, one question stands out: Where was the president himself? If his challenger was willing to appear before the NAACP and be booed, why couldn’t Obama bestir himself to meet live with his most committed supporters?

Conservative commentators defending Romney were quick to make this comparison.

“Hey, one Presidential candidate cared enough about the African-American vote to show up to the NAACP’s annual convention in this election year. Too bad it wasn’t the Democrat,wrote conservative talk show host Ed Morrissey on the website Hot Air.

Republicans noted that CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer agreed with them. On his Situation Room show on Wednesday, Mr. Blitzer said that Romney did the “right thing” by appearing and that Obama, who was in Washington with no public meetings on his schedule, should have appeared as well.

“He’s got meetings. I assume those meetings are very important, but he could have found the time to pay his respects to the NAACP,” said Blitzer.

It’s true that most blacks will vote Democratic. But in swing states such as Virginia, Obama needs every single vote – and an energized African-American electorate could help him, said Blitzer.

Obama did appear at the NAACP via video just prior to Biden’s speech. “I stand on your shoulders,” he said, to polite but not overwhelming applause.

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