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A gay Democrat was a shoo-in to become chairman of the state party just a year before New Hampshire's all-important presidential primary. Then a former friend and roommate accused him of possessing child pornography years ago.
Raymond Buckley's political aspirations appeared dead until an investigation cleared him last week.
Now a replacement candidate has stepped aside to clear the way for Buckley to lead the party he has worked for since age 8, when he used plywood and paint to make a sign for a gubernatorial candidate. Buckley, 47, withdrew from the chairman's race in January after Republican state representative Steve Vaillancourt made the accusations. He resumed his campaign following a strongly worded report from the attorney general that cast doubt on the allegations.
''Whenever a vicious, personal slur is made against someone, it's always a concern...'How do I get my reputation back?' " departing Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan said. ''The way to do that is to hold your head high and continue to go forward. That's what Raymond did.''
Buckley, the party's vice chairman, said that if he is elected, it would send ''a strong message'' to anyone who makes unfounded political attacks.
In early January, Buckley had lined up support from most of the delegates who will vote March 24 for a new party chairman. Then, Vaillancourt sent Democratic governor John Lynch a letter alleging that years ago Buckley had smuggled child pornography from Europe, left porn strewn around his bedroom, and trawled the Internet for illicit images.
Buckley denied the allegations but dropped his candidacy while police and the attorney general investigated.
Vaillancourt said he wrote the letter because he believed the presidential primary would be threatened if the allegations emerged later.
Last week Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and police said they found no evidence to support Vaillancourt's accusations. Ayotte said she even considered filing criminal charges against Vaillancourt, but she concluded it would be too difficult to prove he had filed a false report because he went to the governor instead of police.
On Tuesday, a former House Democratic leader who had replaced Buckley as a candidate stepped aside.
Vaillancourt stood by his accusations. ''I think police, if they got responses they couldn't verify, weren't asking the right questions,'' he said Wednesday.
Buckley and Vaillancourt, who has not stated his sexual preference, became friends in 1983, and Buckley later moved in with Vaillancourt. Their friendship lasted 16 years, although Buckley acknowledged the last few months ''were a struggle for both of us.''
In 1999, Vaillancourt evicted Buckley, and their personal dispute spilled into their political lives. By then, both were serving in New Hampshire's 400-member House.
Vaillancourt eventually left the Democratic Party and served a term as a Libertarian before switching to the GOP.
Buckley left the House after 16 years but stayed active in the party. When Sullivan announced she would not run for reelection as party chair, many Democrats felt he had earned the top position after 39 years serving in virtually every party job, from answering phones to being executive director. He is also chairman of the eastern region of the Democratic National Committee.
''How do you right a wrong?'' Sullivan said. ''You put everything back to where it was before the wrong took place.'' (Norma Love, AP)