- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2016

In his quest to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, New Hampshire’s Democratic Party chairman is touting his state’s success in fending off the GOP as proof he’s best equipped to lead his party back to winning at the national level.

Ray Buckley is running against Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the South Carolina Democrats, for the top spot at the DNC, and while he won’t criticize his opponents, he told The Washington Times that he knows what the national party needs after watching them work in New Hampshire this year.

“We look at what happened here in 2016 when there was this surge — or collapse — in the last minute in battleground state after battleground state, but not in New Hampshire,” he told The Washington Times. “For the first time in history all four members of the congressional delegation are Democrats and women.”

Mr. Buckley also said the DNC chairmanship must be a full-time job — putting some distance between himself and Mr. Ellison, who was just elected to another term as a congressman.

The New Hampshire chairman also said the Republicans’ national success this year shows the importance of a leader with experience in the party trenches.

“I think it is important that someone with actual party-building experience lead the party,” he said. “Look at Reince Priebus. What was his job before being RNC chair? He was the Wisconsin GOP chair.”

Mr. Ellison was thought to be the front-runner for the job after receiving the support of powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill, but he has faced a barrage of questions about past ties to Louis Farrakhan and comments he’s made about Israel, which the Anti-Defamation League said last week raises “serious doubts” about his candidacy.

The concerns about Mr. Ellison and the decision of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who ran the DNC from 2005 to 2009, to pull the plug on his bid, have shaken up the race, and some Democrats are holding out hope that Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who is said to be considering the job, will enter the race.

Mr. Buckley embraced the idea of splitting the chairmanship into two positions, and downplayed the endorsements that Mr. Ellison from power brokers on Capitol Hill.

“I think that for those of us who have spent their lifetimes being elected within the party it is about the vote of the membership — it is not about outside influences,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Buckley has the sort of star power to rally the party behind him as Democrats prepare for Donald Trump in the White House and the GOP in control of both chambers of Congress.

Analysts said Mr. Buckley does deserve credit for New Hampshire’s Democratic trend at the federal election level.

“I think he has taken a Republican state and turned it around into a purple slash blue state,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library at Saint Anselm College. “When he started, Democrats were a joke. Now we have an all-female, all-Democratic delegation from New Hampshire and I would give Ray Buckley a lot of the credit for doing that. He is tireless. He sees the long-game and understands that this is about voters.”

Mr. Buckley said the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s post-2012 investments in rebuilding the party at the grass-roots level and in local communities has paid off.

In 2014, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen thwarted a challenge from former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Gov. Maggie Hassan overcame a stiff challenge to win a second term. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster also won re-election.

Two years later, Democrats recreated that magic.

Hillary Clinton carried the state. Mrs. Hassan unseated Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, Mrs. Kuster won another term and Carol Shea-Porter knocked off Republican Rep. Frank Guinta.

One setback for Democrats this year was the governorship: Republican Chris Sununu defeated Democrat Colin Van Ostern.

Mr. Buckley got his start in Democratic politics as a teenager in 1975 when he served as a member of Jimmy Carter’s steering committee in New Hampshire. He still has a lot of Carter memorabilia.

From 1986 to 2004, he served in the New Hampshire Legislature as a trailblazing openly gay lawmaker. His Wikipedia page notes that during a debate over hospitable visiting rights for married same-sex couples, he informed his colleagues, “You cannot make me straight, so get over it.”

He held the post of vice chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party from 1999 to 2007, when he took over as chairman. He has since been re-elected three times.

He said Democrats need to embrace a 50-state strategy that focuses on engaging voters every day.

“We don’t show up. We are not there. We are not part of the community. We need to go back into all the communities of the country in all 50 states,” he said, adding that he plans to roll out a 15-point plan over the coming days.


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