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Buckley Seeks 8th Term As Chair of N.H. Democrats

Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley
Allegra Boverman for NHPR

After the 2020 election, New Hampshire Democrats found themselves in an uncomfortable position. They lost their majority in the New Hampshire House, Senate and Executive Council and failed to unseat Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, becoming one of the few State Houses in the country to fall entirely under GOP control. New Hampshire Democrats will elect their party chair this weekend, and in doing so, they'll set the course for their party for the next few years.

Ray Buckley has been chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party for 14 years and he's looking for another term. All Things Considered Host Peter Biello interviewed Buckley ahead of the party contest.

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(Below is a computer-generated transcript of the interview.)

PETE BIELLO:  Welcome to All Things Considered.

RAY BUCKLEY: And thank you so much for having me.

BIELLO: So in about a minute or so, how would you summarize why you are the best person to continue leading the New Hampshire Democratic Party?

BUCKLEY: I've been leading the party during its most successful years in its history. We've been winning three out of four elections in the last few years. We've won the entire congressional delegation three elections in a row, and it had never been Democratic before. We lead New England in electing Democratic governors and we are also transforming the legislature. Each decade, we're getting closer and closer and this will be the decade that will be our majority decade. So I believe that what ... the successes that we've had, we're building upon that we're moving forward. And New Hampshire will be a blue state using my experiences, my ability to raise the money. And I think my vision of really making New Hampshire a blue state.

BIELLO: So broadly speaking, what do you think went wrong for Democrats in the last election?

BUCKLEY: I think that there are a number of things. But the singular most important thing was the lack of ability for our state candidates to go door to door. Democratic candidates like to talk to the voters. The voters expect the Democratic candidates to be at their door. And because of the decision was made by the candidates or the campaign committees to not go door to door. And I think that that's unfortunate because we really only lost the majority in the House and Senate by, collectively, about a couple of thousand votes. 

BIELLO: As party chair, how much of the responsibility for that do you bear?

BUCKLEY: Well, ultimately, I bear responsibility for everything, the successes and the losses. And I accept that. And I am determined to work to put in the protocols and the the ability to have more of an impact. We're going to be working a lot closer with the House committee, the committee to elect House Democrats, with the Senate Democratic caucus, and in our Executive Council candidates and our candidates for governor, as well.

BIELLO: Your opponent in this race, Emmett Soldati of Somersworth, he's putting a lot of emphasis on ground up politics. In other words, doing a lot of work for down ballot candidates with the hopes that that will trickle up. What do you make of that strategy?

BUCKLEY: Well, I think that's exactly what the strategy was on my first election as chair. And we have transformed the grassroots in the state of New Hampshire into being incredibly important. And the successes that we're having on the ground up elections, whether it's in town or city elections or county elections or the down ballot state elections, proves that we have won election after election because of our phenomenal grassroots operation here in New Hampshire. In fact, I believe that that's what the major factor in Maggie Hassan's victory over Kelly Ayotte in 2016, along with Hillary Clinton winning New Hampshire when so many of our other sister battleground states were falling to Trump.

BIELLO: With the understanding that, you know, you don't get to set policy direction necessarily, are there big winning policy positions that you think New Hampshire Democrats should highlight going into the next election?

BUCKLEY: I think what's important is that Democrats continue to talk to the voters, hear what the voters are most concerned with and really address those concerns and issues. And we can always have other issues that we are personally passionate about. But our candidates have to have a message that connects with the voters. And I think you saw that with President Biden's campaign and with Senator Shaheen's historic reelection and the reelection of both Congressman Pappas and Congresswoman Kuster. And I think that we will continue to work on that. I think that we've got a lot of new ideas that we're going to put in place, hiring additional messaging staff, creating other ways of communicating that we can really get our message out for a candidate. So I'm feeling very upbeat, positive. We're working much closer with the legislators this term on working with them, on getting their message out.

BIELLO: Midterm elections are notoriously a little more difficult for Democrats than they are for Republicans. To what extent are you optimistic about how the, I hate to say it, but looking forward to 2022, how do you think that'll go?

BUCKLEY: Well, we certainly understand that historically it shouldn't be a good year for us. But, you know, we bucked that happening in 2014 when other U.S. senators were losing. Senator Shaheen was reelected. Governor Hassan, even though she was outspent two to one, was reelected as governor and Annie Kuster was reelected to Congress and our losses in the legislature were cut in half versus what they happened in 2010. So I think we're going to be very prepared for 2022. I think it's going to look a lot more like 2012 where there was a backlash. I think the House Republicans, especially here at the State House, have gone tragically over ... they've taken an overreach where they are attacking basic New Hampshire values. And I think there will be a backlash to that and I think Democrats will regain the majorities at the State House.

BIELLO: Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, thank you so much for speaking with me.

BUCKLEY: Thank you, Peter.

BIELLO: And tomorrow on the program, we'll hear from challenger, businessman and former candidate for Executive Council Emmett Soldati.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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