Longtime NH Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley announced his “Task Force on Building a Blue Hampshire” on Tuesday. Granite State political insiders have stopped complaining — or laughing — since.
“It’s simply too little, too late. Where was this organization after 2018?” asked state Rep. Wendy Thomas (D-Merrimack).
“Who the hell needs a task force to tell you that voting for tax hikes in New Hampshire is stupid?” a Concord insider told NHJournal. “It’s a [expletive] joke.”
In his letter announcing what’s becoming known as the “Buckley Commission,” the NHDP chairman said the task force “will take an objective look at the coordinated efforts across all entities and partner organizations in the 2020 campaign, compared to 2018’s successful down-ballot year, in order to identify areas of opportunity and to build our bench for 2022.”
The move comes in response to the NH Democratic Party’s disappointing performance on Election Day when the party’s federal candidates swept their races even as NHDems were being swept out of power in the Executive Council, state Senate and House of Representatives. While recounts will continue until next Wednesday, Republicans have locked down a 14-10 majority in the state Senate and will likely have a 213-187 majority in the House.
Those are dismal numbers given Joe Biden defeated Republican President Donald Trump by nearly 60,000 votes, and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen defeated challenger Corky Messner by twice that amount.
Shaheen, who led by double-digits in the polls throughout, raised more than $19 million, raising questions about the allocation of NHDP resources to federal, rather than state, campaigns. For example, Democrats lost Sen. Shannon Chandley’s seat by just 157 votes. Sen. Jeanne Dietsch lost by just 409 votes, and Sen. Levesque was edged out by 830 votes.
Fewer than 1,400 votes out of more than 800,000 cast cost Democrats control of the state Senate.
Just days before the election, Lou Jacobson at Cook Political Report shifted their view of the fight to control the state senate from “Toss Up” to “Leans Democrat,” the same rating they’d given the fight for the NH House.
“It was a surprising result to me — one of the most surprising I’ve seen in years,” Jacobson told NHJournal on Wednesday. “If you’d told me that Biden would win by more than seven points in 2020 — after Clinton barely eked out a victory in NH in 2016 — I would not have expected the chambers to flip to the Republicans. That result really surprised me.”
It’s even more surprising given the state Democratic Party outspent its GOP counterpart 3-to 1 ($4.2 million to $1.3 million) and the state Senate Democratic PAC spent $1.5 million to the GOP’s $450,000.
Control of the legislature appeared to be the Democrats’ to lose. And they lost it. In a redistricting year. No wonder Democrats and their statehouse allies are angry.
“Lost elections are one thing. It happens,” one Concord political pro told NHJournal. “But to blow two redistricting elections in a row, each time defending a majority is pretty close to unforgivable.”
Republicans dismissed the task force with a laugh.
“It doesn’t take the creation of a task force to understand that NH voters didn’t want an income tax,” state Sen. Jeb Bradley told NHJournal. “For the last several months, the Democrats tried to disguise their income tax. They called it a ‘fee,’ they called it an ‘assessment on wages,’ they called it everything except what it was – an income tax. Voters rejected their income tax, and rejected their dishonesty.”
NHGOP consultant Patrick Hynes notes that the Buckley Commission includes Rep. Sue Ford (D-Grafton). “She just lost her state Senate race (SD-1) by 15 points and represented a rare town that voted (overwhelmingly) for Sen. Dan Feltes. How can she possibly offer advice to her fellow Democrats on how to win in 2022?”
Also on the task force is Rep. Cole Riel, one of the ten state reps ID’d by NHJouranl last year as the most progressive members representing the most Republican-leaning districts. He declined to run for re-election to his Goffstown seat.
And as veteran political reporter James Pindell, now at the Boston Globe, tweeted: “How near and far are Buckley loyalists [on the task force]? Well, one moved to Colorado 3 years ago. I am curious for her take on why Cryans lost. She know Corky?”
Pindell is referencing former state Senator Kathy Sgambati, who moved to Colorado in 2017.
Meanwhile, nobody from the successful federal races is on the task force. Even Buckley himself isn’t on the task force, part of his strategy, some believe, to deflect blame for the Democrats’ performance away from him. As Pindell tweeted: “Read this as anything other than Buckley’s reelection campaign & you are doing it wrong.”
As for the likely future of the Democrats, in a recent episode of the New Hampshire Journal podcast, UNH political science professor Dante Scala said, “I do wonder if will there will be a progressive element in the New Hampshire Democratic Party that will make itself heard? Or will the Ray Buckley, Donna Soucy wing, the more pragmatic wing, will they still hold sway?”
The Task Force on Building a Blue Hampshire:
- Former House Speaker Terie Norelli,
- Chair State Senator Tom Sherman
- Executive Councilor-Elect Cinde Warmington
- Representative Sue Ford
- Representative Manny Espitia
- Representative Jennifer Bernet
- Representative Cole Reil
- Former Senator Peter Burling
- Former Senator Kathy Sgambati
- Former House Chief of Staff and Former NHDP Executive Director Ryan Mahoney
- Former Chair of Strafford County Democratic Committee Gene Porter