Dropping Clinton name from major N.H. Democratic Party dinner a sign of the times

For the Monitor
Published: 8/12/2018 9:59:44 PM

Mo Baxley says the New Hampshire Democratic Party is changing.

“Progressive is the mainstream,” the state party’s second vice chair told the Monitor.

“I don’t think it’s surprising. We are changing, evolving, so to speak,” added Baxley, who was a top supporter of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign in the Granite State.

Longtime state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro agreed.

“Certainly, the party has changed. There has been a shift,” said the moderate Democrat who backed Hillary Clinton in the divisive 2016 presidential primary.

The latest evidence of that shift – the recent vote by the party’s state committee to strip the names of former presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy from their annual fall fundraising gala.

The party announced Tuesday that their annual Kennedy-Clinton Dinner will now be known as the Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner, in honor of the famous first lady who went on to serve as the first U.S. delegate to the United Nations.

“We are proud to honor Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman revered around the world for her bold leadership and tireless efforts to create justice,” state party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement. “She dedicated her life to helping all hard-working Americans and all those who needed a champion.”

The change came amid the rise of the #MeToo movement, which has drawn attention to examples of powerful men in politics, media and business who have sexually harassed women in the workplace.

That movement has revived long-standing sexual misconduct allegations against former president Clinton, who sustained political fallout for years over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. While he’s apologized for his behavior with Lewinsky, he has repeatedly denied allegations by women such as Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey.

What made the name-change news so remarkable was that it happened in New Hampshire, which is hallowed ground for Bill Clinton.

Following claims from former nightclub singer Gennifer Flowers that she had a 12-year affair with Clinton, the then-Arkansas governor’s presidential campaign was at its lowest point in early February 1992, when he arrived in the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House.

In a smoke-filled room at the Elks Lodge in Dover, he appealed to the crowd for a chance at redemption.

“I’ll never forget who gave me a second chance, and I’ll be there for you until the last dog dies,” Clinton said.

The speech went down in the annals of political history, and Clinton’s strong second-place showing in the primary made him “the comeback kid,” boosting his campaign and lifting him toward the Democratic nomination and eventually the presidency.

The state also resurrected his wife’s 2008 presidential campaign. Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton was the favorite heading into the primary season, but stumbled into New Hampshire after a disappointing finish in Iowa. Clinton’s victory in the primary relaunched her into a historic marathon battle with Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination.

But it was a different story eight years later, as Clinton was trounced in the state’s primary by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a hero of the party’s left wing. Clinton eventually edged out Sanders for the Democratic nomination before losing the presidential election to Donald Trump.

Sanders’s victory in the Granite State signaled a shift in the party to the left and lifted many of his supporters to positions of authority, including Baxley, a former executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry who was elected to her leadership role last year.

D’Allesandro – a moderate Democrat who hopes the party returns to a centrist position – acknowledge the shift of power.

“Bill Clinton was always the favorite of New Hampshire. And I think with many of his friends here, he will remain a favorite. But that’s an era that’s gone by and the party is moving now,” he observed.

State Sen. David Watters of Dover, who’s spent a decade in the Legislature, embraced the shift.

“Times change and it’s really great that we’re moving forward,” he said. “I don’t see it as a source of conflict between old dogs and younger Bernie supporters. I see this as a really energizing, joining together of both sides of the party.”

Watters said he appreciated the new name of the party’s major fall fundraising dinner, while touting his own local dinner.

“As a Dover Democrat, I take a certain point of pride that we’ve called our annual dinner the Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt dinner for quite some time.”

Last November, hours before the Kennedy-Clinton dinner was held, the chairwoman of the New Hampshire GOP urged the Democrats to drop Clinton’s name from the dinner.

And at a major Democratic state party meeting a few weeks after the event was held, a small group of vocal activists staged a small protest urging that Clinton’s name be dropped.

While no action was taken at the time, Baxley predicted there could be a move to change the dinner’s name in the months to come.

That move happened recently, when the party’s state committee voted to strip the names of both Clinton and the late President John F. Kennedy from the dinner.

The party said the move was taken to get things in order before invitations for this autumn’s dinner were sent out.

New Hampshire Young Democrats President Lucas Meyer said the changing of the dinner’s name was less about a shift to the left in the party and more about the state that sent the first all-female congressional delegation to Washington taking a lead in battling sexual harassment.

“On the ground, especially with young voters you aren’t seeing factions split by leader, but really just a unified front against the Trump administration’s hateful, racist, sexist attacks,” he said.

“It’s a nonpartisan issue when it comes to moving the needle and ending discrimination, sexual harassment, and all forms of violence against women,” he added. “Democrats continue to be quick and steadfast in holding our party’s leaders and ourselves accountable to that goal.”




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