Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli is making a play for the support of Black voters in his bid to oust Gov. Phil Murphy.
Ciattarelli on Monday joined Assemblyman Antwan McClellan (R-Ocean City), the only Black Republican in the legislature, Sea Bright Councilman Jeff Booker and Melanie Collette, the vice chair of the Cape May County GOP and vice president of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women, for a conversation about how the party can win support of a Demographic group that has sided overwhelmingly with Democrats for most of the last century.
The strategies varied, but most pointed to meaningful contact with voters in urban, largely Black and Brown Democratic strongholds like Newark that are often ignored by Republican candidates.
“This past Friday night, I was with 200 Republicans from one particular county organization and I think 190 of the attendees were white, and what I said to them was ‘the way we win our elections is not spending all our time in comfortable Republican circles,’” Ciattarelli said.
To Ciattarelli, that’s meant engaging with communities of color — he mentioned working at a soup kitchen in Irvington and handing out personal protective equipment in Newark as examples — and speaking to pastors at Black churches.
At McClellan’s urging, it may soon mean speaking to Black business owners at barbershops and outreach to groups like the NAACP.
The assemblyman also suggested moving away from criticisms of Black-led social movements that have often proven a target for Republicans nationally.
“As Republicans, we need to get away from All Lives Matter and things of that nature,” McClellan said. “If somebody’s going to say to be ‘Black Lives Matter,’ the answer should be yes. When they say ‘Do Blue Lives Matter?’ The answer should be yes.”
Black voters have overwhelmingly backed Democratic candidates nationally for most of the last century. No Republican presidential candidate has won more than 13% of Black vote since 1968, and there’s been little departure from that trend at the state level.
Ciattarelli wants to combat the view, elevated by sects of his party over the past four years, that the GOP has little interest in the problems faced by Black voters.
“As a Republican Party that believes in the individual, I’ve always qualified that to also say that doesn’t mean we’re not our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper,” he said. “We don’t want people thinking the Republican Party believes so strongly in the individual that we’re going to leave folks behind that have been marginalized or disadvantaged.”
Though he hedged on whether he would seek out a woman or person of color to run as his lieutenant governor, Ciattarelli said he’d lend some focus to recruiting diverse down-ballot candidates.
“I joined the Republican Party because I always found it to be the more diverse party, diversity of mind, diversity of thought. The party of Lincoln,” he said. “We have hard work cut out for us in making the Republican Party less white, more Black, more Brown and I think more female, so certainly those things factor greatly into who it is that we’re recruiting.”
Murphy is running for re-election with Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who is Black.