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Romney campaign brought in black supporters for NAACP speech

Mitt Romney speaking to the NAACP
Mitt Romney speaking to the NAACPEvan Vucci / AP

EXCLUSIVE

The Romney campaign Wednesday night denied to Lean Forward that it brought in supporters to cheer during the candidate's speech to the NAACP, as several attendees have claimed. But one prominent black Republican told us she was invited to the event by the Romney campaign, and another African-American conservative said he was urged to go by people connected to the campaign.

"I was invited by Governor Romney," Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll of Florida, a Republican, told Lean Forward in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

Asked who paid Carroll's way, her office referred Lean Forward to the Romney campaign's press office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

After the speech, Romney's campaign released a statement from Carroll asserting that "we can put a stop to [President Obama's] job-killing policies by electing Mitt Romney." 

Niger Innis, a conservative activist, told Lean Forward Thursday that he was encouraged to attend the Houston speech by friends in the NAACP, as well as "some folks that were aligned with the Romney campaign," declining to elaborate. Innis said he paid his own way.

Innis added that he wasn't surprised that Team Romney wanted some friendly faces in the crowd.

"Any political campaign," Innis said, "be it Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or the Green Party, if they're coming to an event, and it's an event that has challenges, they're going to want to surround themselves with allies. It's a no-brainer."

Romney was heartily booed during the speech for saying he'd repeal the Affordable Care Act, but also received cheers at times. 

The TV host Roland Martin, Hilary Shelton of the NAACP, and the radio host Mark Thompson all have claimed that the Romney campaign brought in supporters to the speech. Shelton said on MSNBC Wednesday that the goal was "to provide the cheering for [Romney]." Thompson said the supporters served as "applauders for his applause lines."

Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, told Lean Forward Wednesday night that Shelton's claims were "not true." Asked Thursday about Carroll's statement that she attended the speech as a guest of the Romney campaign, and Innis's that he was urged to go by people connected to the campaign, Saul did not immediately respond. 

Carroll argued to Lean Forward that Romney received a warm reception from rank-and-file NAACP members. At one point, she noted, he was applauded by half the audience. "He didn't bring half of the audience," she said.

Both Carroll and Innis also said they were among a group of black conservative leaders who met with Romney after the speech. Romney said on Fox News Wednesday that these leaders told him:"A lot of folks do not want to say they will not vote for President Obama but they are disappointed in his lack of policies to improve the schools.”