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Soldati Says He's Running For N.H. Dems' Chair To Strengthen Local Ties, Grassroots

Emmett Soldati
Annie Ropeik / NHPR

After the 2020 election, New Hampshire Democrats found themselves in an uncomfortable position. They lost the majorities in the New Hampshire House, Senate and Executive Council and failed to unseat Republican Governor Chris Sununu, becoming one of the few State Houses in the country to fall entirely under GOP control.

Democrats will elect their next state party chair this weekend, and in doing so, they'll set the course for their party for the next few years. Yesterday, we spoke with current party chair Ray Buckley. Emmett Soldati is a businessman from Somersworth and a former candidate for Executive Council. 

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

PETE BIELLO: Welcome to All Things Considered.

EMMETT SOLDATI: Thank you. Happy to be here.

BIELLO: In a minute, how would you summarize why you're the best person to lead the New Hampshire Democratic Party?

SOLDATI: Yeah, I think that our party has really grown a lot over the last several years, decades. And we recognize that there are so many voices within our party that I really think have common shared goals, whether the sort of specific goals of electing Democratic majorities in our state House or state Senate -  to the top of the ticket, to advancing very real policy objectives that improve the lives and the lived experience of folks, no matter where they live in New Hampshire. And it means at this moment, in order to build on a wide range of voices and folks that have been active in our party for generations, like my parents to folks who had just found their way to the party more recently, we need a strategy that doesn't just speak to one facet or aspect of the party, but actually builds unity and connections. And I see those connections as needing to happen at the local level.

BIELLO: What does that strategy look like on the ground? What what would that entail?

SOLDATI: A couple of things. One, you know, I definitely talk about messaging. I don't think it's enough that our party defines its message, just who we are running against. I think we need to be speaking to the issues that we want to strive for. That's one aspect. But I've also talked a lot in my campaign that there is so much more we can be doing to set strategies on the local level that if you are a Salem, that's a very different community than a Dover. And the way that we grow the local organizing, that happens there, not just six weeks before an election, but year round, means we need a different strategy. Whether that's giving those town committees access to, you know, full access to the voter file so that they can run local campaigns, they can practice their message and knock on doors to encouraging a local office campaign so that we are engaging people not just for state House, state Senate campaigns, but for planning board and school board and city council and select board.

BIELLO: Your opponent in this race, current chair Ray Buckley, said by way of explaining what happened to Democrats in the 2020 election, is that COVID-19 prevented a lot of Democrats from going door to door and doing what seems to be maybe the kind of local politicking that you are encouraging here on the ground, meeting voters where they are. Would you agree with that assessment that COVID-19 sank Democrats because it kept them from pounding the pavement in ways that they normally would have?

SOLDATI: I don't think that COVID-19 sank Democrats. I think what COVID showed us is that there were perhaps ways that we weren't ready to adapt and pivot fast enough in order to stay connected. Certainly we know grassroots is important. The grassroots organizing, knocking on doors, meeting your neighbors is important, but that can't be the only strategy. And that's why I do talk a lot about messaging. When someone gets into the voting booth and they don't know the name of their the rep, the Democratic Rep. running, they just don't continue down that line. And that means what we need to do as a party is have a message that says we have credibility, that you can trust that that Democrat will fight for our stated goals because you've heard them from us. So certainly COVID was an experience that tested us and pushed us to adapt in a way that I think we need to learn for the future how to modernize, be more present and savvy and how we engage with audiences in new ways on new platforms. But we could have won this. Absolutely.

BIELLO: WMUR has reported on your having joined the Democratic Party after years of being unaffiliated. Your opponent in this race has been a registered Democrat all his life. So though you did pull Democratic ballots in primaries, why did you want to stay unaffiliated as opposed to committing to the party that you now want to lead?

SOLDATI: Oh, absolutely. You know, this was sort of in my launch video for this campaign. You know, when I moved back to New Hampshire 10 years ago, I just didn't see the New Hampshire Democratic Party speaking my values or knocking on my door in Somersworth. And that is the important distinction in this race. I believe our party is strongest when we meet people where they're at and we welcome them and show them why they have an opportunity in this party.

BIELLO: What was the entry for you? What was the thing that made you say, all right, now is the time to join the Democratic Party?

SOLDATI: You know, it was definitely the local Somersworth Democratic Committee. You know, when I got involved, they had a very local first approach. You know, I'm a business owner here. I've always cared about this community and its growth and development. And I saw them doing things to just improve the lives of their neighbors. It wasn't about what was happening in Washington all the time. And a good example of this. In 2019, we ran six people from our Democratic Committee for municipal office, City Council and school board. And when we were out knocking on doors, we weren't talking about Washington talking points or the Green New Deal. We were talking about why the Somersworth Library hasn't been, hasn't had step-free access since it was built. We were talking about why certain roads never get paved year after year after year, and that is when it occurred to me the power of the Democratic Party. And I think that's the transformative power that we can take statewide to say in every community, for the folks that believe in building and fostering connections between neighbors and wanting a better life for themselves and their children, that it's our job to to build those relationships, to see that it's possible and it's possible through this party.

BIELLO: Emmett Soldati, candidate for a New Hampshire Democratic Party chair. Thank you so much for speaking with me.

SOLDATI: Thank you.

BIELLO: Emmett Soldati is a candidate for New Hampshire Democratic Party chair. We spoke yesterday with current chairman Ray Buckley, who's running for reelection. 

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