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Ray Buckley Hopes To Lead Democrats As DNC Chairman


As we continue to take stock of this year and look forward to the next, let's continue our ongoing conversation about the future of the Democratic Party. To say 2016 was a tough election year for the Democrats is an understatement. They didn't win back control of Congress. They lost governorships and, of course, the White House. We've been talking with Democratic leaders about their vision of what comes next as their party starts to rebuild. This morning on the line from New Hampshire is Ray Buckley. He is the New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, and his name has been floated as a possible chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Buckley, welcome to the program.

RAY BUCKLEY: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: We have been asking several Democrats this same question and I'm going to put it to you as well. There was an assumption in the election that there was this so-called blue wall that couldn't rupture, that somehow Democrats had built up so much support in the Rust Belt that Republicans could never break through. They did. What happened?

BUCKLEY: I think that we fundamentally forgot how to campaign. And that's one thing that we in New Hampshire - New Hampshire's a very purple state, as they say, a 50-50, just about mirrors the country. But when the orders came on down that we were simply going to follow the analytics of some young folks that were going to tell us who our voters were, we said not so much, not here in New Hampshire. And we actually went out and did a persuasion program. So the voters that we were pulling out on Election Day were actually identified as supporters of Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic ticket. We believe in human interaction, and that's the big difference between how we do things in New Hampshire and what happens across the country.

MARTIN: You felt there wasn't enough just getting out and talking one on one with voters, things were happening too remotely from a tactical point of view?

BUCKLEY: Well, absolutely. And if you don't have a human interaction, then the voters don't believe they're actually being listened to or heard. But if they've got a neighbor that's actually talking to them, either on the phone or at their door, then there's an understanding that the Democratic Party is actually listening to them and wants to hear their views.

MARTIN: Was it just tactical errors or was there a flaw in the messaging? Because there have been a lot of critiques that the party just didn't offer the kind of clear economic message that working-class voters were looking for.

BUCKLEY: Well, I really think it's - if you really do a deep dive, it's the real disconnect, that people did not believe that the party was listening to them. And I think that there's a difference when you're having a conversation with somebody and when somebody is simply putting a tag on your name in a voter file saying - oh, just tell this person - remind them to vote on Election Day. We believe that you actually should have a real interaction with a local person. We have a very strong ground game here that has existed now for a number of election cycles.

MARTIN: So are you saying that there's no problem with the overall message of the Democratic Party, it just wasn't implemented well?

BUCKLEY: I think that if people do not feel that they are being listened to or being respected, that it's very difficult to get your message across. I think obviously our message of hope and opportunity is one that the Democratic Party has always stood for. It needs to have been a lot clearer than it was in this last cycle. But I truly think that just like what happened in New Hampshire, that if it happened in the other states that there would have been a stronger connection to the voters, and the voters would have then, I think, responded in a better way.

MARTIN: There is going to be a whole lot of pressure on the next DNC party chair. Why do you want the job?

BUCKLEY: Well, I think that we have an opportunity to reshape how the party views things and how it's structured. The party's entirely too Washington-focused, and I want to flip that upside down. I understand that elections are won in the states and in the communities across the country, not within the Beltway. In fact, you know, I think that the Beltway folks actually do more hindrance than help when it comes to electing Democrats to office. And that's something that I brought to the position of state party chair. As head of the Democratic Association of State Chairs over the last eight years, you know, I have fought very hard to try to get a focus on the states. But unfortunately, with our leadership being entirely focused on Washington, it's not been successful.

MARTIN: Ray Buckley, New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, thank you so much.

BUCKLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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