NHDP Chair Buckley blames Clinton's 2016 loss on lack of DNC emphasis on grassroots outreach
CONCORD – New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley says that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election “because of the decisions that were made within the” Democratic National Committee that favored television ads over building up grassroots outreach.
Buckley added that “there is zero doubt in my mind that not only the chair but the leadership of the DNC is supportive of” New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary status.
And the longtime state party chair accused Republicans of trying to disenfranchise voters, and added that “everything that they have done in the last 20 plus years would indicate that they would try to steal the election.”
Buckley spoke with the Granite State’s political press corps Tuesday afternoon, in his first public comments since Saturday’s DNC chair election.
Earlier this month Buckley dropped his own bid for DNC chair and backed Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota. But on Saturday Tom Perez, Labor Secretary during President Barack Obama’s second term, defeated Ellison 235-200 in a second ballot vote for DNC chair. In a move to quickly try and unify a divided party, Perez named Ellison his deputy chairman.
Buckley said “we are a united party behind Tom.”
“The commitment that the chair has made to the state parties is significant and I think it is going to be a radically different, and I called for radical change, I think it is going to be a radically different DNC when it comes to interacting with state parties, supporting state parties, and building the grassroots,” Buckley added.
The DNC empowered state parties under chair Howard Dean’s “50 state strategy” from 2005-2008. But party leaders moved away from that strategy following the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama.
“I now believe the Perez is going to take the foundation of what was built under Gov. Dean and I think even expand it, Buckley added.
The race between Perez and Ellison, the two front runners in a large field of candidates, turned somewhat into a proxy war between supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who battled eventual 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to the very end of the primary season, and Clinton and Obama supporters.
Buckley said that when it comes to Sanders and Ellison supporters, “I think a lot of folks are willing to give Tom Perez a chance.”
And he added that Perez’s move right after winning the election to bring Ellison on a deputy DNC chair “goes a long way.”
“I have hopes and I think for now we move together and wish him the best,” Buckley continued.
Buckley said he expects Perez will “be up here relatively soon,” and that “I anticipate that Keith will be coming up here at some point in the coming months.”
Buckley, NHDP first vice chair and state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, DNC at large member Joanne Dowdell, and DNC committeeman Billy Shaheen all voted for Ellison, with DNC committeewoman Kathy Sullivan backing Perez.
Asked by NH1 News if he was disappointed with Sullivan’s vote, Buckley responded that “I think that Kathy made a decision on her own and we’ve always respected that relationship that we’ve not always agreed.
Buckley: “zero doubt’ DNC will support NH’s primary status
If Ellison had won, Buckley would have had a leading role at the DNC, steering support to the state parties.
But that didn’t happen, and Buckley also loses a job he’s held for eight years. He’s no longer president of the powerful Association of State Democratic Chairs, after deciding against running for re-election for a fifth term (an election he most likely would have won). He’s also no longer a DNC vice-chair.
On his lack of a national role going forward, the chairman said “I decided to recharge my batteries a little, come back home and take some time, to think about exactly how much time I want to expend outside New Hampshire… after eight years of having a top role on the national level, I think it’s good for me to be here.”
“The best part for me is the be home and to really focus on what’s here, which is the job I actually love,” Buckley added.
Buckley said he’s not worried about the Granite State’s role in holding the first presidential primary.
“There is zero doubt in my mind that not only the chair but the leadership of the DNC is supportive of the New Hampshire primary,” he said. “We have many issues to address and the calendar is not one of them.”
And answering a question from NH1 News, Buckley said there’s very little “likelihood that this is going to be a main focus.”
He added that he “never got a single question (during his bid for the DNC chair) about the calendar.”
Buckley: ‘robust grassroots operation’ would have won Clinton the election
The chairman had some pointed criticism of party leaders over the 2016 presidential election loss. Republican nominee Donald Trump easily topped Hillary Clinton in the electoral college count, thanks to narrow victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, three states that had regularly voted for the Democratic nominees in recent cycles. But Clinton ended up winning the national popular vote by some 3 million votes.
Buckley explained that following the 2014 midterm elections, “I had actual evidence that having vibrant local committees affects turnout tremendously….In some instances turnout was up seven to ten percent. I brought that to the DNC in December of 2014 and they said ‘oh you’re right, it’s not about the TV ads, it’s about the organizing’. And nothing changed.”
“Hillary Clinton lost because of the decisions that were made within the DNC and if we had had vibrant local committees in Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania, and in Michigan, potentially in Ohio and some of the other states, she would president of the United States right now, no matter of anything else that was going on,” Buckley added.
“We should have invested in the grassroots right at the beginning of 2015. If we had done that it would have had a serious impact and if we had invested less in TV ads and more in actually having one-on-one conversations with people and actually built a robust grassroots operation, and really addressed the issues that people cared about,” he continued.
Buckley said that “we didn’t have neighbors equipped to go and talk to their neighbors on what the reality of the Democratic programs and Hillary’s agenda (was).”
Turning to disillusioned voters who cast ballots for Trump, Buckley said “they wanted to believe so much that somebody was listening to them. So I don’t fault those votes. I fault our inability. I believe we’ve got to break the consultant class in DC that makes an enormous amount of money off of television ads. I’ve said over the last months the problem is nobody makes any money off an organizer, except that person. Nobody gets rich off of organizing grassroots and this has got to stop being about the money and about being about the grassroots.”
Buckley: ‘I just don’t trust Republicans’
Last Friday, at a town hall in Concord, Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan made a pitch for scrapping the electoral college and turning to the popular vote to decide the presidency.
But Buckley suggests a hybrid solution, saying “I do think that we should have a trigger, that we can override the electoral college, my proposal was a we have a three percent trigger, which this last election would approximately have been five million votes. That if someone wins by 5 million votes (and loses the electoral college) it overrides the electoral college.”
And he pointed fingers at the GOP, saying “it breaks my heart to say this but I just don’t trust Republicans. We saw what they did with phone jamming, we see what they’re doing with the voter disenfranchisement.”
“Everything that they have done in the last 20 plus years would indicate that they would try to steal the election,” he added.
Both NHGOP Chair Jeanie Forrester and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu criticized Shaheen and Hassan’s suggestion to scrap the electoral college, saying it would not only make the Granite State meaningless in the general election (for two decades it’s been a crucial battleground state) but would also hurt the state’s primary status.
But Buckley shot back, saying “it reminded me of the stupidity and absurdity coming out of the New Hampshire Republican Party. We’ve now had the first in the nation primary for 100 years. We have been a competitive general election state for less than 20 years. So for them to grasp at such an absurd argument exposes them significantly.”
And he criticized Sununu for the then-GOP gubernatorial nominee’s voter fraud comments he made days before November’s election. Following the election, Sununu then disagree with comments from Trump of voters being bused in from Massachusetts to take advantage of New Hampshire’s same day registration law.
Buckley said “I’m still waiting for the governor to apologize for insulting the voters of New Hampshire. His smear is going to do more to attack our first in the nation status that any story that he can make up.”
Asked by NH1 News of how involved he’ll become in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Buckley said “we’ll be having conversations in coming months with people about their potential candidacies, what their thoughts are.”
“I’m not feeling that there is a clock ticking,” he added. “We are staffing up and getting ready and we are determined to have a very successful 2018.”