Black Republicans in party’s spotlight
Local GOP loyalists support state party as it adopts pro-Trump stance
In recent years, Black Republicans have had little visibility in Massachusetts politics, with few holding positions of prominence in state government. In contrast to the administration of former Gov. William Weld, who appointed former state Rep. Frank Cousins the state’s first Black sheriff in Essex County and Ralph Martin the state’s first Black district attorney in Suffolk County, Blacks have had little prominence in the administration of Charlie Baker, a socially liberal Republican.
But as state party officials have embraced the socially conservative brand of GOP politics that helped propel Donald Trump into the White House, one Black Republican is making inroads in the party.
Enter Rayla Campbell, a candidate for secretary of state who brought a slice of the GOP culture wars to the Bay State, warning attendees at the May 21 state convention in graphic terms that Massachusetts schools are encouraging 5-year-olds to engage in sex acts with each other.
“This is what they’re doing,” she told the audience at Springfield’s MassMutual Center Saturday.
Campbell, who earlier this month became the first Black woman to qualify for the ballot in a statewide election, also made history as the first Black woman to win a party nomination for a constitutional office.
But how far the right-leaning party’s backing will get Campbell is another question. In the 2020 election, Donald Trump won less than one-third of the vote, giving Joe Biden a landslide victory in the traditionally liberal-leaning state.
Baker is the latest in a line of moderate Republican governors to lead Massachusetts. He and former governors Mitt Romney, Jane Swift, Paul Cellucci and Weld all embraced a brand of fiscally conservative, socially liberal policies that enabled them to win over independent and Democratic voters here.
In a state that has championed abortion rights, gay marriage and guaranteed health care, sometimes referred to as “Romneycare,” a social conservative has not won statewide office in recent memory. Campbell is looking to break that spell.
Her claim that schools are teaching sexually inappropriate content to young children mirrors national Republican party talking points, which include fearmongering on topics ranging from critical race theory to false allegations that Democrats are grooming children for sexual exploitation.
Reached by phone, Campbell doubled down on her claim that texts encouraging child sex are everywhere in Massachusetts.
“It’s in the libraries, in the books, it’s in the school curriculum,” she said. “It’s happening in a lot of remote towns in Massachusetts, which is scary. It’s very graphic.”
Campbell may be out of step with the larger Massachusetts electorate, but her breed of politics is in keeping with state GOP chairman and former state Rep. Jim Lyons, who wrested control of the state party from Baker loyalists and has pushed its platform hard right.
Campbell is also on the same page as many other Black Republicans in Massachusetts, according to state committee member Rachel Kemp, a former assistant secretary for economic affairs in the Weld administration.
“Black Republicans, for the most part, are socially conservative,” Kemp said. “The party itself doesn’t realize how conservative the Black Republican constituency is.”
Kemp lives in and knocks doors in Dorchester’s Ward 14, a predominantly Black and Latino ward where in 2020 Trump received 709 of the 11,379 votes cast — just shy of 6%. She says the rightward shift in the party hasn’t at all alienated Black Republicans.
Republican activist Robert Fortes, a real estate broker who lives in Hyde Park, says his own politics have shifted from Baker’s brand of Republicanism, which he calls “country club Republicanism” to the more populist politics of Trump’s party.
“Should we be the world’s police?” he said. “Should we be sending $40 billion to Ukraine when we have problems here?”
Campbell says the state party’s rightward shift is in keeping with traditional Republican values.
“It’s going back to our roots and the core of what the Republican Party set out to do,” she said. “We’re going back to the traditional core values that made this country great: family, opportunity, freedom.”
The party’s favored gubernatorial candidate, Trump supporter Geoff Diehl, has cleaved to the same hard right stands as state leadership. Although he disavowed Campbell’s use of foul language on the convention floor, he backed her assertion that schools are teaching children inappropriate lessons about sex and sexuality in an interview with the Boston Globe and said Democratic control of the governor’s office would lead to “indoctrination” of children in the state.
If Republicans lose the corner office, Fortes says it will almost certainly weaken the party, making it harder for GOP candidates here to raise money, noting that past Republican governors were able to help local candidates tap into national donors.
“This is not an easy state for Republicans, outside the governor’s office,” he said. “It’s a value-added when you have to top elected official in the state.”
Diehl could use some of that value-added. He reported $296,441 in his campaign coffers as of April 30, far less than the $2 million Democrat Maura Healy has in her war chest. Campbell reported a balance of just $633.
The news reports of her speech, including a clip of her controversial speech posted on social media, may be the best media coverage she’s had yet.
For now, Campbell said she’s focused on getting her message out and expanding her base.
“We’re a new wave of diverse Republicans and we’re reaching people,” she said.