“Holding Republicans’ Feet to the Fire”: Ray Buckley and the Race for DNC Chair

Ray Buckley is one of seven candidates vying to become the next chair of the Democratic National Committee; the election will be held at a party convention in the last week of February. Buckley is currently the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, president of the Association of State Democratic Party Chairs, and vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee. He served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 1986 to 2004. He spoke over the phone with the Gate’s Ridgley Knapp on February 3, 2017.

The Gate: Why did you decide to run for chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC)?

Ray Buckley: It’s important to me that we fundamentally change the way the DNC operates. The DNC needs radical reform so that we can start winning elections again. Firstly, we need to reform the nominating process to make sure that the DNC neutrally and fairly supports every candidate running for president. Secondly, the DNC has to open up and be more transparent, and the members of the DNC should be involved in the governance of the building. Thirdly, I believe that the state parties have to be significantly strengthened. We have to return to the fifty-state strategy and build the local, grassroots organizations that will allow us to win elections.

Gate: What is your position on the elimination or reformation of superdelegates?

Buckley: There’s not one single person that said I had my thumb on the scale in the 2008 and 2016 New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary. I believe that it starts with being completely neutral both openly and privately. When it comes to superdelegates, I believe that we need to reform the system so that the delegations reflect the actual vote of the voters in every state. Whether it’s a primary or a caucus, when we go to convention, the number of delegates a candidate has should be the percentage of the vote they received. The caucuses have to be streamlined and become much more similar. The caucus system differs dramatically from one state to another. State parties are not equipped to handle the tens of thousands of people who are showing up at the caucuses. They need assistance to process and make sure the votes are conducted correctly. We also need to look at fundraising. I believe the DNC should never again agree to a joint fundraising agreement with a candidate in a primary.

Gate: When you originally announced your candidacy, you said that you intended to return the DNC chairmanship to its bifurcated state. If elected, do you have someone in mind you’d want to share the position with?

Buckley: The DNC membership would have to decide if they want that system, but I am certainly open to it. I think the challenge of taking on Donald Trump and the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, as well as in the governors’ offices and the legislatures, is a massive undertaking. Having two people working diligently would be most effective. I am certainly equipped to do it myself, but if the DNC decides to bifurcate it, I’d be more than willing to be the ‘nuts and bolts’ guy and have one person who’s more of the public face of the DNC.

Gate: Do you believe that the DNC should oppose President Trump’s agenda at every turn or be willing to compromise on certain issues?

Buckley: I think that some members of the media are confusing the two. The strategies of elected officials and the strategy of the party do not have to be the same strategy. The strategy of the party is always to oppose the opposition leader in all instances. Whether elected officials choose to compromise or not, that’s for them to decide, but the party itself is to be on watch 24/7 to point out the faults in Republican proposals and actions. That’s what I would be doing, and I certainly understand, having served eighteen years in the legislature, that compromise between elected officials is possible. That’s not for the party to be involved in. The party is involved in holding Republicans’ feet to the fire every day.

Gate: Republicans have won only two of thirteen statewide races in New Hampshire in the last decade. What allowed the Republican Chris Sununu to win the gubernatorial election this past November?

Buckley: I believe he won by about two percent, and I believe we would have been successful if the DNC had continued with the fifty-state strategy and given us additional support to build the ground operation. We were doing the best that we could without that support from the national party. We actually built that ground operation without the support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) or the Democratic Governors’ Association (DGA). We got some financial assistance for offices from the Clinton campaign, but that was for seven offices out of the twenty-eight that we opened. We had a massive ground operation that we ran on our own. If we had had just a little more help, it would have made a significant difference. What we had was enough for us to withstand the tide that happened in the purple states. Hillary was able to win by a couple thousand votes, and Maggie Hassan was able to beat Kelly Ayotte by a thousand votes, but it wasn’t enough for us to pull everyone else in. That’s a shame, and it’s because the DNC stopped the fifty-state strategy.

Gate: How do you plan on using your experience as New Hampshire state party chair, and as president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, to impact the DNC and the party?

Buckley: Ads do not move turn-out. It is about neighborhood organizing. We have proof: New Hampshire in both 2014 and 2016. We transferred over fifteen million dollars to the DGA, the DSCC, and the DCCC last cycle, and I would say none of that money would go to them unless it was to build ground operations, whether for voter protection and registration or get-out-the-vote efforts. It has to be about actually talking to voters. I would also try to encourage the campaigns to take a look at their budgets, cut their television ad budgets, and invest more in revitalizing local communities. We will all have significantly more funds at the grassroots level to be able to invest from the ground upwards.

Gate: You announced your candidacy on November 29, after Keith Ellison had entered the race with high-profile endorsements from both the “Sanders” and “Clinton” wings of the party. Your support seems relatively clustered in comparison, mainly New Hampshire’s delegation in Congress and in the DNC. How do you intend to be a chair for the national Democratic Party as opposed to just that of New Hampshire

Buckley: I have support in the DNC from all regions. I have support of the Western States Caucus, I have the support of elected officials and members. I feel comfortable that because I was completely neutral through the nominating process, not [supportive] of any “wing,” that I can be a viable alternative. Additionally, the members of the DNC have seen me in action the past eight years as one of their vice-chairs and as president of the Association of State Democratic Party Chairs, and the previous twelve years as one of the leaders in the ASDC. I’ve had nineteen years on the DNC, I think people have gotten to know me. I have a lot of support that may not be public today but certainly will be coming out on February 24.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.

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