WASHINGTON: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney steers his campaign into a friendlier port Thursday, a fundraising event and private dinner sponsored by former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Romney will be in the beautiful mountain valley of Jackson, Wyoming, a day after he faced a skeptical audience and was booed by some during a speech at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the country's oldest civil rights group.
Romney has avoided appearing in public with Cheney or with former President George W. Bush - both are seen as divisive figures by many of the swing voters he needs to win over if he's going to defeat President Barack Obama.
Polls show Romney and Obama virtually tied 3 months before the November election.
The Cheney-sponsored events Thursday evening at this resort town near Yellowstone National Park represent a welcome endorsement for Romney, who is eager to win over more of the party's base.
Romney doesn't have a close relationship with the former vice president, a veteran of five Republican presidential administrations and a huge draw for Republican donors.
While Romney speaks regularly with former President George H.W. Bush, he seldom refers by name to the most recent Bush to occupy the White House. On occasion he goes out of his way not to say Bush's name out loud and simply calls him "the predecessor" to Obama.
Cheney has generally shied away from politicking and he remains controversial, in part because of his hawkish foreign policy stances, including his support for interrogation techniques like waterboarding.
Still, Romney has embraced Cheney in the past. Last year, he told an Arizona town hall that Cheney's "wisdom and judgment" would provide a model for choosing his own vice president.
Many of Romney's policy advisers were officials in the Bush White House. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently endorsed the former Massachusetts governor.
The friendlier confines of the Wyoming events should prove a stark contrast to Wednesday's speech to the NAACP convention in Houston. His appearance before assembled African American notables was designed to show independent and swing voters that he's willing to reach out to diverse audiences.
The former Massachusetts governor would be hard pressed to win a majority of black voters in November when 95 percent backed Obama in 2008. Polls show similar support for Obama in the upcoming vote.
"If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him," Romney said. Pausing as some in the crowd heckled, he added, "You take a look!"
"For real?" yelled someone in the crowd.
The stakes are high. Romney's chances in highly contested states such as North Carolina and Virginia, which have huge numbers of blacks, will improve if he can cut into the president's advantage by persuading black voters to support him.
The U.S. president is not chosen by a nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests. That makes battleground states - which are neither reliably Republican nor Democratic - especially important in tight elections, as the November vote is expected to be.
Obama's campaign countered that Romney's policies would hurt working families in the black community and Democrats said Romney had opposed the rescue of the U.S. auto industry, the Obama administration's health care overhaul and the economic stimulus, which they said helped black voters.
Vice President Joe Biden planned to offer a rebuttal to Romney before the NAACP on Thursday.
Romney was also booed when he vowed to repeal the Obama backed overhaul of the nation's health care system, a law that was upheld recently by the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans in the House of Representatives, undaunted, voted for a 33rd time since the passage of the law in 2010 to repeal it.
That move, as before, will not gain a vote in the Senate and Obama has promised a veto, regardless.
While more Americans oppose the law than support it, blacks are a notable exception. More African-Americans say in polls that they strongly support the law than strongly oppose it.
In an interview with conservative Fox News after the speech, Romney said he had expected the negative reaction to some of his comments. "I am going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country, which is that Obamacare is killing jobs," he said.
Obama spoke to the NAACP during the 2008 campaign, but he has dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to address the group.
For the past year, Romney's campaign has sought to avoid any overt discussion of race. The campaign is mindful both of the sensitivities of Romney being a white man looking to unseat the nation's first black president and of Romney's Mormon church's complicated racial history, having barred men of African descent from the priesthood until 1978.
But on Wednesday, Romney confronted race head-on. Within minutes of taking the stage, Romney made note of his opponent's historic election achievement - and then accused him of not doing enough to help African-American families on everything from family policy to education to health care.
"If you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African-American families, you would vote for me for president," Romney said, to murmuring from the crowd.