AMONG THE weakest excuses allies of Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley offer up for the party’s disappointing 2020 election performance at the state level is that Republicans “gerrymandered” the districts.

Had Democrats rather than Republicans drawn legislative district maps a decade ago, their argument goes, Republicans would not have had such a successful year, one in which Gov. Chris Sununu won reelection with 65% of the vote and Republicans took back control of the Executive Council and both houses of the legislature.

The argument is a virtual tautology. Of course Democrats would have drawn districts more favorable to them had they the opportunity. But Republicans were victorious in 2010 and their legislative majorities faithfully executed their decennial responsibility to redraw legislative district boundaries based on census data.

Here’s why the excuse is so lame. Democrats had already won under the so-called gerrymandered map. Indeed, they entered the 2020 election with majorities in both the House and Senate. The argument also smells like a staged alibi against future failures. Republicans will draw the maps again this year for the next decade. Will Buckley and his echo chamber blame all future drubbings on 2021 redistricting?

Whatever the case, Ray Buckley needs excuses, no matter how lame, for the Democrats’ throttling at the hands of Sununu, et al. because he’s seeking yet another term as New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, his eighth straight.

Fate handed Buckley a golden ticket in 2020. Joe Biden led Donald Trump in every poll of New Hampshire voters and won the Granite State by an 8-point margin. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen drew a Republican opponent with low name recognition who was a new resident of the state. She won with 57% of the vote.

Buckley had only to channel this tide down ballot and the Democrats were looking at a clean sweep. Instead he somehow turned a 14-10 Democratic state Senate majority into a 14-10 Republican majority and replaced a 66-seat majority in the House with a 23-seat minority, surrendering 57 seats to the Republicans.

Perhaps sensing his job was in jeopardy, Buckley hastily assembled a “Task Force on Building a Blue Hampshire,” which was instantly mocked on Twitter as an “autopsy task force.” Democrats criticized Buckley for stacking it with his friends and allies and suggested its only purpose was to gloss over Buckley’s failures. Forty-five local committee chairs signed a letter to Buckley calling on him to expand the task force to include the perspective of local activists.

Anyway, the task force announcement indeed proved to be little more than a publicity stunt. It has generated virtually no attention, let alone new ideas (Google it yourself).

Now there are signs that Buckley is cracking under the strain. At one time, his Twitter feed set the state media’s agenda. These days it’s the digital equivalent of a madman’s sandwich board. He routinely refers to the widely popular Sununu as a “jerk” and a “weasel” and he regularly deletes tweets he evidently regretted posting after some reflection.

Standing accused of aloofness toward local committees, favoring certain candidates, stinginess with cash and information, and allowing the grassroots to atrophy, it was only a matter of time before Buckley drew an opponent.

Enter Somersworth native Emmett Soldati, the son of longtime political figure Lincoln Soldati and community leader Kathy Soldati. He’s a small business owner and, in his words, “occasional provocateur.” He finished third in last year’s hotly contested Democratic primary for the District 2 Executive Council seat.

Soldati’s platform hits Buckley where he is weakest. “Emmett believes that building a strong party starts at the grassroots,” his website reads. He promises to “engage staff outside Manchester/Concord” and “establish local messaging based on real New Hampshire challenges.”

Too subtle? Soldati also promises to “strengthen relationships with local committees” and, ahem, “communicate transparently.”

Some Democrats believe Soldati is gaining momentum against Buckley. His campaign certainly has energy. But Buckley has played this game for a long time. He knows his control of the party’s purse strings allows folks to overlook his shortcomings and lame excuses. A new HynesSight Influencer Survey shows around 80% of political insiders believe Buckley will win reelection.

Approximately 260 Democratic State Committee members will assemble on Zoom on March 14 to choose whether Buckley or Soldati will steer the party’s ship for the next two years. They’ll have to decide if Buckley’s past successes outweigh his recent failures, standoffish nature, and buck-passing rationales.

Patrick Hynes is the President of Hynes Communications. He can be reached on Twitter @patjhynes.

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