WASHINGTON ― The Democratic National Committee requires a chair to be the public face of the party, representing Democrats on television and at major political events.
At the same time, the chairmanship is primarily a managerial post with more mundane responsibilities: recruiting candidates, raising money and devising winning election strategies.
New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley, a long-shot candidate to head the national party, is hoping that the DNC’s 447 voting members put more weight on the latter criteria.
“I am the guy that can actually do the job. There is a lot of folks, either thinking about running or running, who have never even been to a Democratic National Committee meeting,” Buckley said.
But he’s had a formidable amount of experience as a party official, beginning at age 18 when he became head of his local county party in New Hampshire. He has been the state’s party chair since 2007, and the president of the association of state Democratic Party chairs since 2009. From 1986 to 2004, he was a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
From a party standpoint, Buckley’s experience in New Hampshire has been relatively successful. Despite the state’s past Republican leaning, Democratic women now occupy all four of New Hampshire’s U.S. House and Senate seats, and the state went for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
A sore point was the loss of the state’s governorship in 2016. But overall, Democrats have won 11 of the last 13 statewide races, Buckley noted.
“We are now firmly purple, leaning a little blue,” he said.
Buckley’s biggest criticism of the DNC is a familiar one: He argues the party has abandoned the 50-state strategy that ushered in major Democratic sweeps in 2006 and 2008.
That’s mainly been a matter of the DNC reducing the money it gives to state parties since 2008, according to Buckley. He also argues that the party spends far too much on television advertising as opposed to on-the-ground organizing.
“New Hampshire proves that, because I have been able to raise the funds and continue the programs that we started in those years,” Buckley said. “So we have the ground operation, unlike some of the purple states who were unable to withstand that surge that Donald Trump had.”
Without disparaging President Barack Obama outright, Buckley appeared to echo many party officials’ criticism of Obama’s decision to create the independent fundraising outfit Organizing for America.
“They believed honestly that they were transforming politics,” he said. “We now look back... and realize that perhaps 2010 would have been better if we actually had a more robust ground operation within all the state parties.”
Even as the DNC race is widely viewed as a proxy fight between supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and supporters of Clinton, Buckley demurred when asked to characterize his ideological tendencies. Instead, Buckley, who is openly gay, ticked off his strong record of fighting for LGBT rights, the environment and organized labor.
The veteran New Hampshire operative also shied away from populist pronouncements, including specific ideas for reducing the power of large donors over the party.
Buckley would not say whether he plans to reinstate the ban on lobbyist donations to the DNC.
“I would ask the executive [committee] to have a thorough discussion about that,” Buckley said.
In explaining his approach to lobbyist donations, Buckley took a clear dig at Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), whose stint as DNC chair was marred by charges that she stacked the primary debate schedule for Clinton.
“Our problem that we’ve had in the party is that whoever’s been chair has unilaterally made way too many decisions, whether it’s the debate schedule” or other matters, Buckley said.
“The important part, and that’s part of my reform package for the DNC, [is] that the chair simply shouldn’t be the only person that decides what kind of money that we’re gonna take, or really any of those large policy decisions,” he added.
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