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Party Popularity Could Boost Buckley's Chances In Race For DNC Chair

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Raymond Buckley, the longtime leader of New Hampshire’s Democratic party, is now running to be his party’s national chairman. Buckley may lack the name recognition of some of his potential rivals, who include a member of congress, a former presidential candidate and a current cabinet secretary. 

But Buckley is well-known to those who count in this race, the 447 DNC members who will choose their party’s next leader in February.

It’s not a stretch to say the Democratic Party has been Ray Buckley’s life. He started volunteering on campaigns as a child, and has now toiled on his party’s behalf pretty much non-stop for 40 years. City elections, state races, presidential campaigns. Buckley has done it all for free and for pay.

Under his watch, New Hampshire's Democratic Party has transformed into a veritable machine. But to hear him tell it, winning any election – and that surely goes for his run to DNC chair - boils down to fostering connections.

“It’s neighbor to neighbor, and family to family, we learned the power of that in New Hampshire. When a neighbor is talking to family member or a friend is a friend. That’s more important than anything coming out of Washington.”

That was Buckley this summer, speaking with Free Speech TV on the floor of the Democratic onvention in Philadelphia. And it was at the convention when the idea that Buckley might be a plausible party chairman was first aired.

NHPR's Casey McDermott tweeted this photo of Buckley huddling with Senator Jeanne Shaheen at the Democratic National Convention in July.

Former chairman Debbie Wassermann Shultz had been forced to resign over hacked DNC emails showed staff plotting against Bernie Sanders, and the DNC got together for what attendees have described as a cathartic meeting.

“So at that meeting it was like, OK we’ve got some things going on here. So when the officers were all introduced, the person who got the biggest applause was Raymond Buckley. He got a standing ovation. And I was sitting there. And I was like. Wow.”

Kathy Sullivan is one of NH’s DNC members. She preceded Buckley as NH’s party chair and has watched him climb the DNC ranks. For eight years, Buckley has served as chair of the state party chairs, and a DNC vice-chairman.

“He has been so active among the state chairs and he has spoken up on behalf of state parties that no one else has. So I think he walks onto this race with base of support that no one else has.”

We’ll see, but there are indications Buckley’s base extends well beyond New Hampshire.

Aleita Huguenin is a DNC member from California, and longtime chair of the party’s western caucus.

“I have the thirteen states, which is a lot of 'fly-over' states and stuff and anytime I’ve had a problem or an issues Raymond has been there.”

Huguenin says she hopes DNC shares her view that the party’s next chairman needs to work for the party full time, which Buckley would do. The issue has become an early flashpoint in the race due to one leading candidate, Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison, being a sitting congressman, and others being lobbyists.

Hugenin says whomever the DNC elects needs to have one focus: the success of the party.

“They cannot be bifurcated, or trifurcated, in their lives because we’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do. This is not a time for someone to stop by the office once a week.”

Not showing up for work has never been a problem for Buckley.

The DNC will elect its next chairman at the end of February.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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