Secretary of State William F. Galvin fought off his second primary challenge in as many election cycles on Tuesday, besting Tanisha M. Sullivan, the president of the NAACP’s Boston branch, to capture the Democratic nomination and inside track to becoming the longest-serving secretary in Massachusetts history.
Galvin, a seven-term Brighton Democrat and the state’s chief elections official, was projected as the winner by the Associated Press about an hour after polls closed. Sullivan, of Hyde Park, conceded in a statement shortly afterward.
A dean among Democratic secretaries of state nationwide, Galvin pitched himself as a steady hand to oversee the state’s elections, overcoming Sullivan and her arguments that an office with the same leader since 1995 needed a fresh, more proactive voice.
“It’s a testament to the importance that voters see in elections administration,” Galvin said in a phone interview Tuesday night. “It’s also a challenge for the future. I have to make this term better than all the others, and I intend to. There’s so much more at stake.”
Galvin, who turns 72 this month, has overseen Massachusetts elections for a generation, and for some voters, is the only secretary of state they’ve ever known. With Tuesday’s projected victory, he sits on the cusp of realizing historic longevity: Should he capture an eighth term in November, he will be poised to pass Frederic Cook, whose 28-year tenure as secretary lasted until 1949, as the longest-serving secretary in state history.
Galvin will face Rayla Campbell, a conservative Republican from Whitman, in the Nov. 8 general election. Campbell ran unopposed in the GOP primary.
After not facing a Democratic opponent for more than a decade, Galvin has now beat back consecutive intraparty challengers, both of whom pitched themselves as more progressive alternatives.
Sullivan, like former Boston city councilor Josh Zakim in 2018, argued that Galvin had not been aggressive enough in pushing election reforms. She also cast Galvin as “anti-abortion,” echoing a similar line of attack Zakim made, and said she would push the office to tangibly do more to protect abortion rights.
And after a stirring speech at the state party convention in June, Sullivan captured party activists’ attention and the party’s endorsement — again, just as Zakim did four years earlier.
For some Democrats, Sullivan offered a more captivating pitch for change than her predecessor. A 48-year-old corporate attorney and Hyde Park resident, she pitched the office as a potential hub for democracy. She would have been both the first woman and person of color elected secretary, offering a perspective, she argued, that was needed to better engage communities of color and other places where voter participation has long lagged.
Her challenge was also a novel one: Galvin was the only incumbent Democratic secretary of state being targeted within his own party.
The office “has been flying beneath the radar,” Sullivan said in an interview last month. “What we’re doing is shining a light on really what has been going on so that people understand what is broken.”
But as a first-time candidate, Sullivan struggled to raise funds and capture widespread attention for a down-ballot — and at times bitter — race. It’s also unclear how squarely her criticisms of Galvin as being an obstacle to change landed, given he publicly backed changes such as establishing election-day registration and was a vocal proponent of making expanded mail-in voting permanent.
“Our campaign may be ending today, but our work to protect our democracy — to strengthen our communities — continues,” Sullivan said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to share our vision, and while we came up short this evening, we stood tall on issues that matter.”
Galvin has time and time again proved politically resilient. Nicknamed “the prince of darkness” years ago for his ability to outmaneuver adversaries, he dipped into his multimillion-dollar campaign account to run multiple television ads and saturate voter’s homes campaign mailers at a time when Sullivan did not have the funding to do either.
One of Galvin’s TV spots featured a dancing Donald Trump, charging that the former president has “got a plan to steal the next election” after making bogus election fraud claims following the 2020 election, and that Galvin is the one to defend against it.
“I intend to follow through on this,” Galvin said Tuesday. “I am the senior Democratic elections official in the United States. I intend to use that role, to speak not just for Massachusetts, but to speak for honesty in elections nationwide and against voter suppression.”
The secretary of state’s office is also responsible for enforcing the state’s public records law, policing the financial industry, and serving as a clearinghouse for corporations registering with the state.
Galvin next will face Campbell, the first Black woman ever nominated by Republicans for a Massachusetts constitutional office.
Campbell differs widely from the incumbent on election reforms: She opposes universal mail-in voting, and served as a plaintiff in Republicans’ failed challenge against a new law making it permanent. Campbell backs implementing a broad ID requirement to vote, something Galvin has opposed.
She, too, has sown doubts about the 2020 election, suggesting in April that the media “buried the truth” about the results. She later told party activists at their May convention that Republicans have “watched our elections be stolen.”
While running, Campbell has also campaigned on topics well beyond the typical scope of the office. She has baselessly claimed that Massachusetts public schools are teaching young children about performing sex acts on one another, comments that Galvin called a “vile, homophobic attack.”
She has also been a frequent critic of “drag story hours,” events featuring drag performers in elaborate costumes and makeup reading books and singing songs. She disrupted one event in late June in Holbrook, where she confronted and shouted at attendees while parents and organizers shielded children with Pride flags and umbrellas.
Should he win in November, Galvin has indicated, if not outright said, that an eighth term would be his last. He told one Globe reporter last month that he “quite likely” would not run again in 2026. He also told a Globe columnist he is “certainly done here, with this job.” (If that sounds familiar, it is: Galvin four years ago said this term was probably the last.)
In Quincy late last month, Galvin said any decision to not run again comes with a caveat, of sorts: He said he wants to help ensure the 2024 election is not upended by election-deniers and bogus fraud claims.
“Hopefully by the time this [upcoming] term ends, we’ll have saved democracy,” Galvin said with a wry smile. “Then, I’ll feel my work is done.”