Buckley says ‘D.C. culture has a stranglehold’ on Democratic Party

For the Monitor
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The longtime chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party is raising serious “concerns” about his national party’s organization.

Ray Buckley, a former vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, worries that the party may lose some close races this November due to a lack of “grassroots organization.”

Buckley voiced his concerns in an interview with the Monitor and WKXL radio in Concord that was released a day before the start of a winter meeting of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, an organization he led for years.

Buckley said the national party needs more of the “vibrant grassroots operation,” that has led to ballot-box success for New Hampshire Democrats.

“I hope that the DNC will refocus some of its energies into building sort of that long-term, sustained grassroots organization,” Buckley said. “I know that’s not the culture of Washington and it takes a huge effort.”

Buckley stepped down as head of the association in late 2016 to run for DNC chair. After ending his long-shot effort, Buckley backed the bid of congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Ellison ended up losing the race for DNC chair to Tom Perez, who had served as Labor Secretary under President Barack Obama.

By most accounts, Perez has had a rocky first year as DNC chairman, as he’s tried to repair the rift created during the 2016 presidential primaries between supporters of eventual nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. And Perez has been at the helm of the DNC during one of its worst fundraising periods in recent history.

Despite the problems facing the national party, Democrats enjoyed success at the polls last year, flipping state legislative seats from red to blue in special elections across the country – including New Hampshire – and winning big on Election Day in November in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and down ballot contests nationwide.

Buckley told the Monitor that he’ll see Perez at the Association of State Democratic Chairs meeting, which is being held in Long Beach, Calif., starting Wednesday.

“I certainly want to talk to him about my concerns,” Buckley noted.

Buckley predicted that Democrats will win again this year in New Hampshire, but voiced concerns about what would happen elsewhere in the country.

“There are other states that aren’t as capable as we are in being able to mobilize all those voters that would likely vote for the Democratic candidate,” he said.

And Buckley raised alarms over Democrats’ ability to eke out wins in close races.

“There will be campaigns, there will be candidates out there that won’t be successful and will lose by a very small margin because of the lack of that grassroots organization,” he said.

Perez has said the party is where it should be at the start of a midterm election year. And DNC officials point out that Perez inherited an organization that was in shambles and deserves credit for trying to right the ship. They also point to a $10 million DNC fund for state-level parties and their grassroots organizing efforts.

But Buckley said he remains concerned and blames the inside-the-Beltway mentality for the national party’s woes.

“The bad news is that the D.C. culture has a stranglehold on our party,” he said.

But he added that “the good news is there are hundreds of thousands of local grassroots organizations that are stepping up.”