New Hampshire Dems miffed at Hodes over withdrawal of support for candidate

When Rep. Paul Hodes’s (D-N.H.) office sent out a release Friday night in response to some Internet video footage of a candidate for the state party chairmanship, the two-day-old video had been viewed only a few hundred times and drawn just one comment.

By Monday afternoon, it had been viewed 4,500 times, drawn about 70 comments and ignited a firestorm of intra-party anger — the bulk of which appears to have landed squarely on the shoulders of Hodes, rather than the candidate, Ray Buckley.

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Hodes’s action in response to the video posted on YouTube has put him in the doghouse among his New Hampshire Democratic colleagues. They believe the announcement of his pulled support of Buckley created a story that otherwise wouldn’t have made it into the mainstream press, rehashing a months-old controversy that had faded just in time for the election for state party chairman.

State Democratic operatives said Hodes, a freshman who defeated Rep. Charlie Bass (R) in November and figures to draw a serious challenge in 2008, blindsided state Democrats with the release.

“Nothing was happening, and friggin’ Hodes — excuse me, I’m really angry at him — went and did this on his own,” an operative said. “There are a lot of people up here who are really angry at him right now.”

Despite their anger, Democrats say Hodes’s action won’t affect his standing in the party or support for his 2008 reelection bid.

Hodes sent out a one-paragraph statement Friday just after 6 p.m., in which he said he had reviewed the clip and called it “highly disturbing.” He then urged “the proper authorities” to investigate the matter and pulled his support for Buckley’s campaign for the state party chairmanship, which culminates Saturday when officers are elected.

The six-minute video splices decades-old clips of Buckley using foul language and acting lewdly with narrated footage of Buckley’s profile on a social-networking website, which is linked to a group called “Gays in New Hampshire” that includes boys as young as 16. A New Hampshire Republican operative, Joe Kelly Levasseur, has taken credit for posting the footage.
The video and Hodes’s announcement bring back a months-olds controversy begun when a former housemate accused Buckley of possessing child pornography. Buckley withdrew from the race in January after Republican state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt lodged the accusation, but he rejoined it after he was cleared by the state attorney general’s office this month.
Vaillancourt has said he provided Levasseur with footage for the video.

Through it all, Hodes is sticking to his guns.

“Paul stands by his statement,” spokeswoman Bergen Kenny said. “He did what he did, and he’s not running away from it.”
Hodes is the only major state party figure thus far to pull his support for Buckley. Some, including outgoing Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan, joked about the situation Sunday at their St. Patrick’s Day Parade Breakfast.

Gov. John Lynch, who backed away from Buckley when the accusations were first raised and who has called the video “offensive,” is nonetheless sticking by him.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, another freshman Democrat who endorsed Buckley, appeared to hedge this weekend but didn’t officially pull her support. Her office did not respond to requests for comment.

While Lynch is popular in the state, Hodes and Shea-Porter likely will be among the top Republican targets in 2008, meaning missteps will need to be few and far between.

The state will be a battleground, as Sen. John Sununu (R) appears vulnerable and both state houses flipped last year, not to mention the early presidential primary. Former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R), whom Shea-Porter beat in November, already is set to run against her.

Hodes and Shea-Porter haven’t made much news thus far in a state that isn’t used to having Democratic members of Congress, according to Mark Wrighton, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Last week, Hodes received some press for introducing his first bill, and for his questions of Valerie Plame.

“The key for them is to try to accrue as many of the advantages of incumbency as possible before the 2008 elections,” Wrighton said.

In the video, the narrator specifies repeatedly that he is not accusing Buckley of breaking any laws but is merely bringing into question his character and fitness for a state party chairmanship.

Buckley has said he will resume his campaign and denounced Vaillancourt’s and Levasseur’s efforts. He did not return a call seeking comment.