Frustration fuels NH Dem's DNC bid

Frustration fuels NH Dem's DNC bid
© Courtesy Raymond Buckley

Raymond Buckley’s frustration with Democrats in Washington runs all the way to the White House.

Buckley, New Hampshire’s Democratic chairman and one of five candidates vying to be the next Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, is laying into the DNC and Washington Democrats for the party’s 2016 electoral losses, caused by what he calls a “fundamental misunderstanding of how to win elections.”

In Buckley’s telling, the national party’s shortcomings and miscalculations extend to President Obama, whose popularity among liberals and the public at large has generally put him beyond public reproach for most Democrats.

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But in a Thursday interview with The Hill, Buckley gave voice to a gripe that is quickly gaining traction among liberals: that the president and his team of advisers have overseen a national party that was ruthlessly efficient at electing Obama but ineffective almost everywhere else.

“We need to stop looking at the DNC’s sole reason for existence as winning the presidential race,” Buckley said.

“I think it’s important that we honor and respect the president’s legacy and his accomplishments, and I believe he’ll go down as one of the most consequential presidents in history. That said, he was an outsider when he was elected, with very little institutional support or longtime party support. Many of his key advisers were a part of that and there was a lack of understanding about what strong state parties or the DNC could accomplish for all the races and how that might impact his legacy.”

Buckley has been entrenched in Democratic politics for years, first as an openly gay member of the New Hampshire statehouse in the 1980s.

He has been a DNC member since 1999, on the executive committee since 2001 and an officer since 2009. Buckley has been the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party since 2007.

Buckley’s approach to fixing the DNC does not necessarily set him apart — all of the candidates are running on a platform of returning power to the state parties and grassroots activists that is in line with former DNC Chairman Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy,” which is widely viewed as the gold standard.

But his pitch to the 447 voting members of the DNC is that he has a track record of doing it in the real world.

Under his chairmanship, Buckley said, Democrats in the swing state of New Hampshire have won 11 of their last 13 statewide contests, the last three presidential elections, five of the last six elections for governor, three of the four Senate contests, and nine of the last 12 House races.

Buckley fumed over what he described as the national party’s strategy of producing glossy television ads that he said only serve to enrich the Washington consultant class. In contrast, Buckley said, all of the Democratic gains in his state have come from the laborious, low-margin work of local organizing and door-knocking.

“There has been this belief that elections are won in Washington, when in fact elections are won in the states and local communities, and if the folks in Washington can’t accept that, it will make it tough to change,” Buckley said.


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Buckley has laid out the reforms he’d impose on the DNC to ensure there are fair contests going forward. 

He says he would address the superdelegates controversy by mandating that state delegation votes at the national convention reflect their primary results. Buckley would outlaw joint fundraising agreements during the primaries and strip the chairman of power to schedule primary debates, spreading that responsibility and other duties to DNC officials and the executive committee.

Buckley believes his neutrality in 2016’s Democratic primaries makes him uniquely equipped to tackle that project, particularly as the race to be the next DNC chair has become a proxy fight between those who supported Clinton, the party's presidential nominee, and those who backed Sanders.

Even so, Buckley remains a long shot to be the next DNC chairman. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a Sanders supporter, and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who backed Clinton, have been racking up early endorsements from prominent figures on the national scene. 

The battle between the two leading candidates has so far dominated media coverage of the race, while Buckley has lacked a similar national profile.


Still, Buckley notes that most of the endorsements for Ellison and Perez come from Washington lawmakers or outside groups whose members aren’t among the 447 state party chairs, vice chairs or local officials who actually have a vote in the contest.

“Ninety percent of the DNC has chosen not to endorse a candidate at this point,” Buckley said. “We can all respect and honor the elected officials and some of the big names in our party who have, but they are only one piece of what DNC members will take into account.”

Even if the DNC vote doesn’t go his way, Buckley has a backup plan.

He has publicly advocated for DNC co-chairs, saying the chairman’s responsibilities are large enough that the party should consider having two full-time leaders.

In Buckley’s vision, one co-chair would be the public face of the party, going on television shows and crossing the country to meet with donors, while the other — Buckley himself, if he gets his way — would focus on the nuts and bolts of building a national grassroots campaign infrastructure. 

Buckley said he hasn’t pitched another candidate on joining forces to run as co-chairs yet. He wants the process to play out further to give each candidate a chance to make their pitch.

But he’s keeping the option on the table and gauging whether that dynamic could come into play as the Feb. 23 election approaches. 

“I’m one who has always believed a team is better than one person, so if the DNC chose to bifurcate the responsibilities, I’d go along with it,” Buckley said. “All it takes is two folks willing to make it work.”