The State and Local Party Organizations

century ago, many party organizations were described as “machines,” with the power to control city governments and mobilize large numbers of activists. Just a few decades later, most of these machines were gone.

A variety of forces had drained the strength of state and local parties, and most party organizations at the state and local levels were described as weak and inactive. Since that time, party organizations have revived at all levels and moved into the Internet age. State and local parties, in short, have been on a wild ride during the past century—demonstrating how capable they are of adapting to changes in the American political environment.

What difference does it make if a party organization is vibrant or weak? As the Introduction to Part II noted, in many ways, the party organization is the foundation of a political party. It gives the party a way to endure, despite a changing cast of candidates and elected officeholders. More than the party in government or the party identifiers, the party organizations are the keepers of the parties’ brands—the unifying labels and ideas that give candidates a shortcut in identifying themselves to voters and that give voters a means to choose among candidates. Without this organization, a party becomes only an unstable alliance of convenience among candidates and between candidates and groups of voters—too changeable to accomplish the important work that parties can perform in a democracy.

In this chapter, after considering how to measure “party strength,” we will explore the reality of state and local party organizations as they adapt to their environments. Next, we Will turn to the local party organizations, trac- ing their path from the fabled political machines that dominated a number of eastern and Midwestern cities beginning in the last half of the 1800s to the fall and rise of local parties more recently. Finally, we will see how the state parties grew from weakness to greater strength in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

WHAT IS A “STRONG” PARTY? How can a “strong” party be defined? Many researchers measure a party’s Vigor by examining its organizational features. Stronger parties would have


*—_—_—_——LPARTII The Political Party as an Organization 49

of the political parties. They are the sector of the parties that can provide continuity, even as the party’s candidates, elected officials, and identifiers come and go. A strong party organization can hunt for the resources needed for long-term election success and can present a united, persuasive approach to issues. So the development of a stronger party organization can change the character of politics and elections. In fact, as American party organizations have become more robust in recent years, they have altered our politics in ways ranging from campaign fund-raising to the nature of political debate. Chapter 3 begins by exploring the party organizations closest to home: state and local parties.

m——LfiateRegulation of the Parties l 51

larger budgets and more full-time, paid staff members. That can be termed party organizational strength.

There are other ways to measure party strength. A strong party would work effectively to register voters, tell them about party candidates, and get them to the polls on Election Day. It would be successful in filling its ticket with attractive candidates. Its candidates would win more races than they lose. We could even measure whether the party is able to get its platform enacted into law (as we will see in Chapter 15).

In order for a party to do these things—and especially to register voters, canvass, and get out the vote—it needs money, staff, and other forms of orga- nizational strength. We will look at most of these measures of party strength in this chapter but focus mainly on party organizational strength.

STATE REGULATION OF THE PARTIES Americans’ traditional suspicion of political parties has led most states, especially during the Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 19005, to pass large numbers of laws restricting their party organizations. Party commit- tees are regulated “lightly” in only about a third of the states, most of them in the South, Plains states, and upper Midwest.1 At the other extreme, in 15 states—including California, New Jersey, and Ohio—lawmakers have thought it necessary to control even the smallest details of state party activity, such as the types of public buildings in which parties must hold their conventions.

These extensive state rules have not necessarily weakened the parties; some of the strongest party organizations in the nation are also the most tightly regulated. In fact, all these state laws help prop up the Democratic and Republican Parties against competition from minor parties. However, they do give state governments a set of tools for keeping an eye on their parties. They also indicate that state law does not View the parties simply as private groups. As Leon Epstein argued, the parties are seen as public utilities that can be subject to a great deal of state direction.2 And federal campaign finance regulations since the 19703 have built a substantial body of national law that affects party organizations and candidates.

States do not have complete freedom to decide how to regulate the parties. Federal courts have frequently stepped in to protect citizens’ voting rights (see Chapter 8), to keep the states from unreasonably limiting minor-party and independent candidates’ ballot access (see Chapter 2), and to acknowledge the parties’ right to control their internal affairs. In the 1980s, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Connecticut could not prevent the Republican Party from opening up its primary to independents if it wanted to. Soon after, the Court threw out a California law saying, among other things, that parties could not endorse candidates in primary elections. A 2000 Supreme Court decision overturned a California state initiative setting up a “blanket primary” on the grounds that it violated the party organization’s First Amendment right to decide who votes in its primaries.3 Even so, American party organizations are more heavily regulated than are their counterparts in other democracies.

_—J—_———_~————\52CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations

LEVELS OF PARTY ORGANIZATION The party organizations created by the states follow a common pattern.‘T’heir structure corresponds to the levels of government at which voters elect office- holders. This structure is often pictured as a pyramid based in the grassroots and stretching up to the statewide organization. A pyramid, however, gives the misleading impression that the layer at the top can give orders to the layers below. $0 picture these party organizations, instead, as they fit into a geo- graphic map (Figure 3.1).

Local Party Committees The county is the main unit of local party organization in most states, because so many important local officials are elected at the county level, and usually in partisan elections: sheriffs, prosecutors, county attorneys and clerks, judges, council members, treasurers, assessors, surveyors, coroners, and more. These officials control vital functions ranging from policing the area and prosecuting those accused of crime to assessing and collecting property taxes. Party organizations exist in almost all of the nation’s counties to at least some

State legislative and/or congressional district

committee (in some states)

State central committee FIGURE 3.1 The Party Organizations in a Typical State.

—_’———————_LLevelsof Party Organization 1 53

degree. These are the parties’ “grassroots,” where a lot of the activity of party volunteers takes place.

In most areas, counties are divided into smaller units called precincts. Each precinct (or town, township, or ward, in some areas) in theory has a party leader—a committeeman and/or committeewoman—to conduct the party’s activities in that area. Because there are about 193,000 precincts in the United States, it would be easy to imagine a vibrant party base made up of at least 200,000 committed men and women. However, this exists only in the dreams of party leaders; in reality, up to half of these local committee positions are vacant because nobody volunteers to serve in them.

When these (unpaid) positions do get filled, it generally happens in one of three ways. Most committeemen and women are chosen at local party caucuses (meetings) or in primary elections, but in a few instances, higher party authorities appoint them. In states that use caucuses, parties hold meetings in the precincts and wards that are open to any voters in the area who declare themselves attached to the party. These local party supporters then elect the precinct committee leaders and often elect delegates to county and/or state conventions as well. In states that choose precinct committeemen and women in the primaries, any voter may nominate himself or herself for the job by filing a petition signed by a handful of local voters. If, as often happens, there are no nominees, the committeeman or woman may be elected by an even smaller handful of write-in votes. These local committee positions, in short, are not normally in great demand, especially in the weaker party in an area. Therefore, the local parties are far from being exclusive clubs; their “front doors” are often open to anyone who chooses to walk in.

What do these precinct and county party leaders do? Their three most important jobs are registering new voters, going door-to-door (called “canvassing” or “d2d”) to tell potential supporters about the party’s candidates, and getting voters to the polls (known as “GOTV,” or “get out the vote”). They need to recruit volunteers to help with these labor-intensive tasks and to help staff the party’s headquarters. County party leaders may also try to raise money to support local candidates. And when there are vacancies on the party ticket—offices for which nobody chose to run in the primary election and for which the party has not been able to recruit candidates—then the local party committees may be responsible for appointing a candidate to run. In the less active local parties, the committeemen and women may do little more than show up at an occasional meeting and campaign for a party candidate or two.

The precinct committeemen and women usually come together to make up the next level of local party organization, or they elect the delegates who do. In some states, the next level is the city party committee; in others, it may be the town, county, or state legislative and congressional district committees. Usually, however, there is greater activity at the county level than in any other layer of the local party.

——l————————_’_54‘ CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations

State Central Committees At the state level, the party organization is usually called the state central committee. The state parties typically help to recruit candidates for statewide offices (for instance, state treasurer or attorney general) and state legislative seats, assist in training them, and raise money to support their campaigns. They may also work with local parties on the crucial tasks of voter registration, canvassing, and GOTV.

State law usually gives party central committees a number of other impor- tant powers: the responsibility for calling and organizing party conventions, drafting party platforms, supervising the spending of party campaign funds, and selecting the party’s presidential electors, representatives to the national committee, and some of the national convention delegates. Some other states give these powers to the party’s statewide convention instead. In a few states, such as Indiana, the party’s state convention actually nominates candidates for some statewide offices, a reminder of the power that party conventions held in the days before primary elections.

These are the formal organizational structures that state law creates for the state and local parties. From them, we can draw three important conclusions. First, the levels of party organization have been set up to correspond to the voting districts in which citizens choose public officials in that state (e.g., county and congressional districts), and the main responsibility of these organizations under state law is to contest elections. State laws, then, see the party organizations as helpers in the state’s task of conducting nominations and elections—tasks that before the turn of the twentieth century belonged almost entirely to the parties alone.

Second, the laws indicate that state. legislators are ambivalent about what constitutes a party organization. Many of these laws treat the parties as cadre organizations (see page 48) run by a small number of party officials. Yet, when they specify that the party’s own officials, including local committeemen and women, must be chosen in a primary election, this gives party voters— and potentially, any voters—a vital, quasi—membership role in the party organization. 80 state laws help to create a party that is semipublic, rather than a genuinely private group whose active members choose its leaders and set its direction.

Finally, the relationships among these state and local party organizations are not those of a hierarchy, in which the lower levels take their orders from the higher levels. Instead, through much of their history, the parties were best described as “a system of layers of organization,”4 or as a “stratarchy,”5 in which each of the levels has some independent power. In fact, power has traditionally flowed from bottom to top in the local and state parties, as opposed to a hierarchy, where power would be centralized at the top.6 Party organiza- tion is a system of party committees growing from the political grassroots. Thus, the party organizations remain fairly decentralized and rooted in local politics, even in the face of recent trends toward stronger state and national committees.

————————————L—TheLegendary Party Machines ’ 55

THE LEGENDARY PARTY MACHINES The high point of local party organizational strength in the United States occurred in the late 18005 and early 19005, when the urban political “machine” reached its peak of power. At this time, by some accounts, a large majority of American cities were governed by machines.7 The party machine was a disci- plined organization that controlled the nominations to elective office. It had the hierarchical structure that today’s local parties lack. It relied on material incentives—giving out jobs and favors—to build support among voters. Above all, it controlled the government in a city or county.

Yet, for all their power in shaping how we think of party organizations, the great urban machines were not found in all cities, and they gradually disap- peared. The decline began in the 19303, and almost all were gone by the 19605 and 1970s. These “traditional party organizations”8 were brought down by a number of forces. Some party machines, such as those in Pittsburgh and New York, never recovered from election upsets by middle-class reformers. Others, including those in Philadelphia and Gary, Indiana, lost power when racial tensions overshadowed the old ethnic politics.9

How the Party Machines Developed In the late 18008, large numbers of the immigrants arriving in major American cities had urgent economic and social needs. These newcomers were poor, often spoke no English, and faced a difficult adjustment to their new urban environ- ment. Party leaders in many of these cities—usually Democrats, reflecting that party’s history of openness to immigrants—saw the opportunity for a mutu- ally profitable exchange. The immigrants needed jobs, social services, and other benefits that a city government could provide. The party leaders needed large numbers of votes in order to gain control of city government. If the party could register these new arrivals to vote, their votes could put the party in power. In return, the party would then control the many resources that the government had available and could give the new voters the help they needed so desperately.

Jobs ranked high among the newcomers’ needs. So the most visible of the benefits offered by party machines were patronage jobs in the city government— those awarded on the basis of party loyalty rather than other qualifications. During the glory days of the machine, thousands of these patronage positions were at the machines’ disposal. By giving patronage jobs to party supporters, the party’s leaders could be assured that city workers would remain loyal to the machine and would work to help it win elections by delivering not only their own votes but those of their family, friends, and neighbors as well. After all, if the party lost the election, then the city workers would lose their jobs.

For example, in its prime, the Chicago Democratic machine controlled an estimated 35,000 patronage jobs in government and influenced hiring for another 10,000 jobs in the private economy. Adding the families and friends of these jobholders, the party machine could deliver 350,000 motivated voters at election time. Local party workers also won voter loyalties by finding social

——l——_§———_————56‘ CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations

welfare agencies for the troubled or by providing Christmas baskets or deliver- ies of coal for the poor. Machine leaders, called “bosses,” attended weddings and wakes, listened to job seekers and business executives, bailed out drunks, and helped the hungry and homeless.

The machine had favors to offer local businesses as well. Governments purchase many goods and services from the private sector. If a bank wanted to win the city’s deposits, it could expect to compete more effectively for the city’s business if it were willing to contribute to the party machine. Insurance agents and lawyers who wanted city contracts, newspapers that printed city notices, and even suppliers of soap to city bathrooms were motivated to donate money or services to the party machine. In addition, city governments regularly make decisions that affect individuals’ and businesses’ economic standing, such as building permits and health inspections. If you were helped by one of these decisions, you could expect the machine to ask for your thanks in the form of contributions and votes. A political leadership intent on winning support in exchange for these so-called preferments can use them ruthlessly and effectively to build political power.

How Machines Held Onto Power The classic urban machine, then, was not just a party organization but also an “informal government,” a social service agency, and a ladder for upward social and economic mobility. In some ways, it looked like the local organization of a European mass-membership party, except that the American machine had little or no concern with ideology. Its world was the city; it focused on the immediate needs of its constituents, and its politics were almost completely divorced from the issues that animated national politics.

An important source of the machines’ strength was their ability to appeal to ethnic loyalties. Although there were party machines in cities without large immigrant populations, the rise and fall of the American political machine is closely linked to changes in ethnic-group migration to the big cities. The machine was a method by which ethnic groups, especially the Irish, gained a foothold in American politics.10

Machines were capable of creating a “designer electorate” by using force and intimidation to keep their opponents from voting. Because the party machines controlled the election process, it was possible, in a pinch, to change the election rules and even to count the votes in a creative manner. One of the indispensable tools of rival party workers in Indianapolis, for example, was a flashlight—to locate ballots that did not support the dominant party’s candidates and happened to fly out of the window at vote-counting headquarters in the dark of night.

Machine politics was most likely to flourish in the big cities, but American party machines took root in other areas as well. The conditions that led to the development of machines, especially a large, parochially oriented population with immediate economic needs, were also found in small southern and one—company towns. Even some well-to-do suburbs have spawned strong machine-style party organizations. In the affluent Long Island suburbs of New York City, for example, a Republican Nassau County political machine

_—__——————I_LocaiParty Organizations Declined and then Rebuilt ‘ 57

controlled local government “with a local party operation that in terms of patronage and party loyalty rival[ed] the machine of the famed Democratic mayor of Chicago, Richard]. Daley.”11 The Nassau machine, which was gen— erations old, was dominated by Italian Americans and provided jobs just like the big-city machines of old before losing its power in the 19903. However, in nearby Queens, the local Democratic organization rebounded from scandal and continues to control primaries and elect candidates.

We cannot be sure how powerful the party machines really were, even at their strongest. A Chicago study found, for example, that in 1967 and 1977, the party machine distributed public services mainly on the basis of histori- cal factors and bureaucratic decision rules rather than to reward its politi- cal supporters.12 In New Haven, researchers reported that ethnic loyalties seemed more important to a party machine than even its own maintenance and expansion. The machine, led by Italian Americans, distributed summer jobs disproportionately to Italian kids from nonmachine wards, who rarely took part in later political work, and not to kids from strong machine areas.13

Regardless of how well they functioned, there is no doubt that the condi— tions that helped sustain party machines have been undercut. Economic change and political reform took away the machine’s most important resources. Most city jobs are now covered by civil service protection, so the number of patron- age jobs that can be used to reward the party faithful has been greatly reduced. Federal entitlement programs, such as welfare and Social Security, have reduced the need for the favors that party machines could provide. Economic growth has boosted many Americans’ income levels and reduced the attractive- ness of the remaining patronage jobs; the chance to work as a sewer inspector or on garbage pickup just doesn’t have the allure that it once may have had. Higher education levels have increased people’s ability to fend for themselves in a complex bureaucratic society. And in many areas, racial divisions have overwhelmed the machine’s ability to balance competing ethnic groups.

LOCAL PARTY ORGANIZATIONS DECLINED AND THEN REBUILT After the machines failed, local parties’ organizational strength dropped dra— matically in many areas. By the mid-19008, many city and county parties were starved for leadership, money, and volunteers. Then the local organizations began to rebuild. However, the new local parties were no longer as capable of running campaigns as the traditional machines had been; instead, they tended to focus on providing services to candidates.

Local Parties in the 19705 We got the first comprehensive look at the nature of local party organizations in a 1979—1980 survey of severalthousand county leaders (seeTable 3.1).14 The results showed the distinctive fingerprints of cadre parties, and fairly weak ones at that.

.L—————__—’_—_58‘ CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations


Changes in Local Parties’ Organizational Strength, 19805-20105 Democrats Republicans

1980 1996 2010 1980 1996 2010 The local party organization has (in percent)

A complete or nearly complete set 90 95 89 81 96 92 of officers A year-round office A telephone listing A Web site Some paid staff members

Full time Part time

A regular annual budget A campaign headquarters

12 17 25 14 25 24 11 27 33 16 30 29 — — 7O — —- 70

3 4 6 4 4 7 5 6 8 6 7 7

20 26 34 31 34 34 55 6O 54 60 60 61

Campaign activities Door-to~door canvassing Organized campaign events Arranged fund-raising events Contributed money to candidates Distributed posters or lawn signs Used public opinion polls

49 55 73 48 57 59

68 81 79 65 82 77

71 74 75 68 76 77

62 75 57 70 78 59

59 93 84 62 93 81

11 13 11 16 15 14

Note: 1979—1980 figures are based on responses from 2,021 Democratic and 1,980 Republican organizations to a mail survey; 19% figures are from mail surveys of all county party chairs in nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin), with responses from 340 Democrats and 335 Republicans; 2010 data are from an Internet survey of local party chairs in 49 states, with responses from 543 Republicans and 672 Democrats. Note that the 19% data are not from a national sample.

Sources: John Frendreis and Alan R. Gitelson, “Local Parties in the 19905, ” in John C. Green and Daniel M. Shea, eds., The State of the Parties, 3rd ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), pp. 138—139 (for 1980 and 19%); Douglas D. Roscoe and Shannon Jenkins, “State and Local Party Organizations in the 21st Century, ” paper presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, pp. 34—36 (for 2010).

The researchers found that most county organizations were headed by a volun— teer party chair and executive committee; almost none received salaries for their efforts, and only a few had a paid staff to assist them. Not many of these local party leaders had even the most basic forms of organizational support, such as a regular budget, a year-round office, or a listing in the phone book. Most did meet regularly, had formal rules to govern their work, and, together with a few other activists, raised funds and sought out and screened candidates. However, their activity was not constant; it peaked during campaigns.

Democratic local parties didn’t differ much from Republican local parties in terms of the overall strength of their organizations during the 19705. States differed a great deal, however, in the organizational strength of their local parties. Some states in the East and Midwest had relatively strong local

m—fi—l—LocalParty Organizations Declined and then Rebuilt l 59

organizations in both parties, while others—Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, and Nebraska—had weak parties at the county level. In a few states, such as Arizona and Florida, one party was considerably stronger than the other party at the local level. Most often, strong organizations of one party were matched with strong organizations in the other party.”

There is persuasive evidence, however, that the county party organizations in 1980 were in the middle of a growth spurt. In a 1980 survey, by asking county party chairs about the changes in their parties since 1964, researchers found that, on average, local parties had become much more involved in the nuts-and-bolts activities of registering voters, raising money, and publicizing candidates. When the researchers checked in again with these county organizations in 1984, they saw further development, and a national survey in 1988 indicated even higher levels of local party activity.16

Local Parties Today: More Active, More Structured Local parties have continued to develop as structured organizations, though they still depend on unpaid volunteer activists to accomplish their goals. Especially in urban areas, more county parties had the basic ingredients for a viable party organization (a permanent office, a budget, a telephone listing, a staff) in 2010 than had been the case in 1980.17 Most of these county parties report that they organize campaign activities, run voter registration and canvassing drives, contact voters by phone, and distribute lawn signs and posters; and again, more local parties report conducting most of these activities now than they did in 1980. In particular, the county parties are increasing their use of Web sites and e-mail as well as free social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Other forms of campaigning, such as using public opinion polls and buying radio or TV time for candidates, are less common. Not very many of these local parties put a priority on mobilizing young voters.18 Relatively few county parties are active year-round, raising funds and holding events at times when no campaigns are going on. Nevertheless, it seems clear that more local parties have been energized and are providing choices to voters.

Michigan’s Democratic Party provides an example of this increase in party organizational strength. Michigan Democrats, long the minority party, were in sorry shape for the first half of the 1900s, after machine politics had faded. By the end of the 19403, more than half of the state’s counties had no Democratic county committees. Then, labor unions, led by the United Auto Workers, stepped in to bring volunteer and financial support to the Democrats. Within two years, there was a Democratic Party organization in almost every county in the state. After internal conflicts took their toll in both parties during the 19605 and 19705, organized labor moved again to rebuild the Democratic organization. By the late 19903, the great majority of local Democratic Parties were raising money and contributing to candidates, buying ads, and distributing literature. The county organizations have now become the backbone of the state Democratic Party.19

Local party leaders in many areas of the country have recently stepped up their efforts regarding absentee and early voting. By 2008, most states had

#w—bo~ CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations

relaxed their requirements for casting an absentee ballot. Large numbers of reg— istered voters can now vote by mail or in person before Election Day. To take advantage of these changes, many local parties—those in Washington state, for example—now mail absentee ballot requests to all known party voters. By working to “bank” as many loyalists’ votes as possible, the party organiza- tion can protect itself against last-minute campaign surprises or Election Day thunderstorms that might depress the party vote. Local parties can spread their GOTV efforts over several weeks and then focus their Election Day activities on mobilizing less involved voters. The downside is that because absentee vot- ing is much harder to monitor than voting at the polls, parties need to find ways to keep the other party from delivering absentee ballots that have been filled out illegally or with “help” from overzealous party workers.

Local parties are also expanding their efforts to recruit candidates.20 One study found that more than a third of people regarded as potentially strong candidates for Congress in 1998 had in fact been contacted by local party leaders and that those contacted were more likely to run.21 In another study, almost half of all state legislative candidates reported that local party lead- ers had encouraged them to run.22 County party leaders can improve their chances of recruiting candidates when, as in Ohio, they can endorse candidates in primaries and fill vacancies in elections. Keep in mind, however, that it is not yet clear whether being recruited by a local party organization, as opposed to being a “self-starter,” helps a candidate win the general election.

In sum, we have good evidence that county party organizations are stron- ger and more active now than they were a generation ago. It is harder to deter- mine whether county parties now are as effective organizationally as were the old city machines, because there are so few reliable records prior to the 19605. But it is possible that many counties now have more robust party organiza- tions than they have ever had.

At the same time, however, the nature of the local parties has changed. From organizations that once were at the very center of election activity, county parties have become service providers to candidates who often have several other sources of help. So the challenge for the local parties is this: In an age of largely candidate—centered campaigns, does this growing county organi- zational presence matter as much as it would have a few decades ago.>23

THE STATE PARTIES: GAINING MONEY AND SERVICES State parties have been the poor relations of American party politics. Throughout the parties’ history, the state committees rarely had significant power within the party organizations. There have been exceptions; some powerful, patronage-rich state party organizations developed in the industrial heartland in the late 18005.24 But in most states, most of the time, the state committee was the weak link in the party organization.

In recent years, however, state parties have grown in importance. They are richer, more professional, and more active now than they have ever been

h———_I‘TheState Parties: Gaining Money and Services 61

before. There has been some centralization of activity throughout the party structure. Let us start the story in the years before this change began.

Traditional Weakness State party organizations were traditionally weak for several reasons. They began as loose federations of semi-independent local party chairs. These local parties within a state differed from one another in many ways: rural/ urban, regional, ethnic, and religious differences, loyalties to local leaders, and conflicts between more liberal and more conservative interests. If one of these factions gained control over the state party organization, the others would be seriously threatened. So this threat was often avoided, in the past, by keeping most of the party’s resources out of the hands of the state organization. Power was decentralized, collecting in the most effective of the local organizations.

Progressive reforms in the early 19005 also weakened the state party orga- nizations. In particular, the introduction of the direct primary (see Chapters 9 and 10) limited the influence of state parties on campaigns for state offices. Candidates could win party nominations in primary elections without party organization support, raise money for their own campaigns and, thus, run them without party help. Even today, relatively weak state party organizations are still found in the states where the Progressives and Populists had greatest strength—the western states, especially the more rural ones.25

Beginning in the late 19605, the national Democratic Party adopted reforms that greatly increased the number of primaries in the presidential nominating process. That reduced the state party’s role in selecting a presidential candidate. The voters, rather than the state party organization, choose most convention delegates now, and most of the delegates come to the convention pledged to a particular candidate rather than controlled by state party leaders. Further, extensions of civil service protections and unionization eroded the patronage base for many state parties. In what may have been the final indignity for patronage politics, some courts have even prevented the firing of patronage workers when the governing party changes.

One-party dominance in several states during the first half of the 19005 also kept a number of state parties weak and conflict—ridden. Southern Democratic Parties were a notable example. When a single party dominates a state’s politics, the diverse forces within the state are likely to compete as factions within that party; the state party organization has neither the incentive nor the ability to unify, as it might if it faced a threat from a viable opposition party. For all these reasons, many state party organizations were described as “empty shells” in the 19405 and 195 05.26

Increasing Strength in Recent Decades Since the 19605, however, state party organizations have become stronger and more active. The state parties began to institutionalize—to become enduring, specialized, well-bounded organizations—during the 19605 and 19705. In the early 19605, for example, only half of a sample of state organizations had

_|———_—————’_62l CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations

permanent state headquarters; two decades later, by 1980, that was true of 91 percent. The number of full-time, paid state party chairs doubled during this time, as did the number of full-time staff employed by the parties in non- election years. These resources—full-time leaders and a stable location—are vital to the development of parties as organizations.27

As with local parties, the state organizations have continued to expand since then. More than half of the state parties surveyed in a 1999 study had full-time party chairs, research staff, and public relations directors. Three-quarters had a field staff, and 91 percent employed a full-time executive director, perhaps the most crucial position in a state party organization. A number of state parties have created internship programs for college students. In California, the Republican Party set up a task force in 2009 to apply leading-edge technologies, including the next generation of computer applications that will come after Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to all aspects of party work. The empty shells are being filled.

Fund-raising State parties have put special effort into developing fund-raising capabilities. By 2000 (see Table 3.2), almost all of the state parties surveyed raised money at events and by direct mail. They used the money to support a variety of races; party candidates for governor, state legislature, and the U.S. Senate and House received contributions from more than four-fifths of these parties. Over 90 percent of the parties made efforts to recruit candidates for state races; the parties’ new fund-raising skills can be very useful in convincing attractive prospects to run for an office.28

The parties are especially active in recruiting and helping fund candidates for the state legislature.29 These state legislative candidates rely on various levels of party committees for different kinds of help. State legislative parties’ campaign committees3O often recruit and train candidates and provide fund—raising support, advice on consultants, and liaison with political action committees, whereas the local parties are thought to be more helpful in traditional grassroots activities such as GOTV drives.31

The increase in state parties’ election-year fund-raising since 1980 fairly leaps off the page in Table 3.2. National party committees played an important role by transferring increasing amounts to the state parties and candidates. The transfers peaked in 2000, when the national party organizations gave a whopping $430 million to parties and candidates at the state level, many times the amounts that the national parties had infused into the state organizations just a few years earlier.32 Collectively, the state parties were able to spend $53 million raised in large sums, called “soft money” (see Chapter 12), on voter mobilization and GOTV activity in the 2000 campaigns.33

Just as important for the development of strong party organizations, fund— raising during nonelection years was growing as well. The nonelection—year budgets of the state parties climbed from an average (in absolute dollars) of less than $200,000 in 1960—1964 to more than $800,000 by 2000. The result is that at that time “most state parties are multimillion—dollar organizations with experienced executive directors and knowledgeable staffs.”34

m————LWeState Parties: Gaining Money and Services I 63


Increasing Organizational Strength Among the State Parties

1979—1980 1999—2000 Difference

Typical election-year budget $340 K $2.8 mil. +$2.46 mil. Typical election—year full-time staff 7.7 9.2 +1.5 Off-year budget $337 K $812 l<* +$475 |< Off—year staff 7.2 7.6* +0.4 Conducted campaign seminars 89% 95% +6% Recruited a full slate of candidates — 91% — Operated voter ID programs 70% 94% +24% Conducted public opinion polls 32% 78% +46% Held fund—raising event 19% 98% +79% Contributed to governor candidate 47% 89% +42% Contributed to state legislator 47% 92% +45% Contributed to state senator 25% 85% +60% Contributed to US congressional 48% 85% +37% Contributed to local candidate 70%

Party Strength and Activity

Note: Data for 1979—1980 are from a mail survey of state parties. Data for 1999 come from a mail survey by John H. Aldrich and associates of 65 state party chairs (39 Democrats, 26 Republicans), and data for 2000 from a mail survey by Raymond La Raja of 37 Republican and 37 Democratic state party executive directors.

*Data from La Raja’s 2000 survey.

Sources: For the 1999 data, see John H. Aldrich’s “Southern Parties in State and Nation,” Journal of Politics 62 (2000): 659. For 2000, see Raymond J. La Raja, “State Parties and Soft Money,” in John C. Green and Rick Farmer, eds., The State of the Panties, 4th ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), p. 141. The 1979—1980 data are from James L. Gibson, Cornelius P. Cotter, and John F. Bibby, “Assessing Party Organizational Strength,” American Journal of Political Science 27 (1983): 193—222.

Passage of new campaign finance legislation in 2002 (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA, discussed in Chapter 12) took away the national parties’ ability to transfer soft money to the state parties. Although that was a blow to the state parties’ finances, BCRA did allow state parties to spend federally regulated money (which the national parties could transfer to states without limits) on federal campaign activities and to raise a certain amount of soft money themselves (up to $10,000 per donor) for grassroots mobilization and party-building. These, added to the high stakes of polarized politics, helped the state parties to maintain active fund-raising. In 2003, after the end of the soft money transfers, state Democratic and Republican Parties raised a total of $189 million—more than they had in 2001.35 Since that time, collective state party receipts and media buys by state parties have not matched their pre-BCRA levels, but party spending in some states, including Missouri and Indiana, has gone up considerably. State parties, then, have become more effective fund-raisers and most have learned to cope with the BCRA reform rules.

‘|—————_——64l CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations

Campaign Services To run a competitive campaign, state legislative and statewide candidates need consultants, voter lists, and computers, and they often turn to the state party organizations to provide these services. With their increased organizational resources, the state parties have been able to comply. All the parties surveyed in a study by John H. Aldrich operated voter identification programs to determine which voters were most likely to support their party’s candidates and took part in GOTV drives. Most provided campaign training seminars, and almost four-fifths conducted public opinion polls in the late 1990s.36 Since then, however, the BCRA rules have limited state parties’ ability to run coordinated campaigns, in which a variety of candidates share campaign services.

Republican Advantage Unlike the situation at the county level, Republican state organizations are stronger than their Democratic counterparts. The Republican parties surveyed by Aldrich had much larger budgets and bigger and more specialized staffs. Because they are bigger and richer, they can pro- vide more services to their candidates. For example, Republican state parties have been more likely to conduct polls, employ field staff and researchers, and contribute to local parties than the Democrats are.37

But Democratic state parties are catching up. Howard Dean was elected Democratic National Chairman in 2005 by promising state party chairs that he would give every state, not just the closely-fought “battleground states,” enough resources to hire at least three or four field organizers and access to a party database of voters. Many of the party’s Washington-based consultants opposed this “SO-state strategy,” asking why an increase in the party staffs in small states would help Democrats nationally. But after major Democratic gains in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Dean’s expensive efforts to build strong state parties were acclaimed by some as “visionary.”38 (For more on this program, see Chapter 4.)

Allied Groups Labor unions, especially teachers’ and government employees’ unions, have worked closely with their state Democratic Party organizations to provide money, volunteers, and other services to party candidates. For 15 years, for instance, the New Jersey A.F.L.-C.I.O. has run a “boot camp” training program for first-time legislative and local candidates, most of them Democrats, to help them with fund—raising, media, and messages, and, then, campaign support. State Republican Parties have close ties to allied groups as well. Small business groups, manufacturing associations, pro-life groups, and Christian conservative organizations often provide services to Republican candidates. As the state parties gain strength, these constituency groups often try to increase their influence on, or even take over, state party organizations. Christian Right and Tea Party groups, in particular, have come to dominate or have substantial influence on a majority of state Republican Parties (see box “How to Take Over a State Party Organization” on page 65 ).39


*—————_J_TheState Parties: Gaining Money and Services 65

Because of the close association between parties and activists from these allied groups, it is possible to think of the parties as networks of organizations, which include the interest groups, consulting firms, and “think tanks” (research groups) that offer their resources and expertise to a party.40 For party leaders, these allied groups can be a mixed blessing, of course; labor unions and religious groups have their own agendas, and they can be as likely to try to push the party into locally unpopular stands as to help elect party candidates.

How to Take Over a State Party Organization Just as groups of evangelical Christians worked to dominate several state Republican Party organizations during the 19905, Tea Party supporters tried to do the same in 2010. In Michigan, the local party meetings that elect delegates to the state Republican convention are normally poorly attended. So when Tea Party activists flooded these local meetings, they were able to elect about 20 percent of all the state convention delegates. At the convention, they succeeded in influencing the state party platform and the selection of some statewide can- didates. In Maine, a group of Republican delegates with Tea Party connections, frustrated with the moderation they saw in the state Republican organization, changed the party platform to include Tea Party stands such as eliminating the US Department of Education and the Federal Reserve and calling for an investigation of “collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth.” A coalition including Tea Party supporters in the Idaho Republican convention passed a platform that recommended ending the public election of U.S. Senators. A Michi— gan Tea Party activist explained, “This is about wrestling with the very devil himself, if we have to, for the soul of the Republican Party.”

These events demonstrate that the state and local party organizations are permeable. Party organization officials are usually elected by party activists and the volunteers they recruit. So groups within (or even outside of) the party struc— ture can take over the party organization if they can gather sufficient numbers to win party elections. In fact, Tea Party and other conservative activists created the National Precinct Alliance to urge like-minded people to become Republican local activists for just this purpose.

Sources: Kathy Barks Hoffman, “Michigan Tea Partiers Launch Surprise Push,” August 26, 2010, at (accessed August 27, 2010); Colin Woodard,“ ‘Tea Party’—backed Platform Sails Through Maine GOP Convention,” Christian Science Monitor, May 10, 2010, at—party-backed-platform- sails-through-Maine-GOP—convention” (accessed March 21, 2011).

—l————*f66. CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations

It is not easy to build a powerful state party organization. It requires having to overcome the localism of American politics, widespread hostility toward party discipline, and conflicts among party supporters. Strong and skillful personal leadership by a governor, a senator, or a state chairman helps.41 50 does a state tradition that accepts the notion of a unified and effective party. State law makes a difference as well. More centralized party organization has flourished in states that make less use of primary elections, so the party organization has more control over who the statewide and congressional candidates will be.

The Special Case of the South The most striking instances of party organizational development have occurred in the formerly one-party Democratic South. As the national Democratic Party showed greater concern for the rights of African Americans in the 19603 and 19703, and particularly as the Voting Rights Acts increased the proportion of African American voters in southern states, conservative southern Democrats became increasingly estranged from their national party. Southern whites support for Republican candidates grew, first in presidential elections, later in statewide and U.S. Senate races (as you will see in Chapter 7).

In the 19805, state legislative candidates could sense the opportunity to run and win as Republicans. By 1994, Republicans were contesting as many as one-third of the state legislative seats in the South and winning two-thirds of the seats they contested. Since 1994, Republicans have won the governor- ship of all but one southern state at least once, as well as a majority in at least one house of the state legislature in most of these states. Republicans are now surpassing Democrats in state elections—this in a region where, just a few decades before, it was often more socially acceptable to admit to having an alcoholic than a Republican in the family.42

Along with these electoral gains, southern Republican Parties grew stron— ger organizationally. North Carolina’s state Republican Party, for example, was only minimally organized in the early 1970s. It started in earnest to recruit state legislative candidates during the mid-19805. By the 19905, with a much expanded budget and staff, the party focused on attracting experienced candi- dates for targeted districts, producing direct mail and radio ads, and helping candidates with training and research. Even the Florida Republicans, still not very strong organizationally, have come a long way since the years when state party chairs had “portable offices” in their homes or businesses.43 Democrats have had to respond, so the strength of both parties’ organizations has been increasing since the 19905.44 Southern parties, long among the weakest and most faction ridden, have become some of the strongest state party organiza- tions in the past two decades.“

National Party Money An important ingredient in strengthening the state party organizations has been the national parties’ party-building efforts. The full story of these efforts is told in Chapter 4, but the central point is that the national parties, with more energetic leadership and more lavish financial resources than ever before, infused a great deal of money into the state parties,

_—_—__——|‘SummingUp: How the State and Local Party Organizations have Transformed ’ 67

and at least some of the money was directed toward helping build the state parties’ organizational capacity. State parties have also become effective fund- raisers in their own right, and the BCRA rules have spurred them into finding new ways to support themselves. Thus, the state parties, so recently the poor relations of the party organizations, have come into money.

SUMMING UP: HOW THE STATE AND LOCAL PARTY ORGANIZATIONS HAVE TRANSFORMED There have been dramatic changes in party organizational strength at the state and local levels. The high point of local party organizations may have been reached a hundred years ago, when some parties could be described as “armies drawn up for combat” with an “elaborate, well-staffed, and strongly motivated organizational structure.”46 Although this description did not apply to party organizations throughout the nation even then, it would be hard to find a local party organization that could be described in these terms today.

Local parties were buffeted by a variety of forces since then. Progres- sive reforms adopted in the early 19005 undermined party organizations by limiting their control over nominations and general elections as well as their valued patronage resources. A number of other factors—federal social service programs, economic growth, a more educated electorate, and even racial con- flict—also undercut the effectiveness of the local parties.47

Yet local parties have come a long way toward adapting to these changes. County parties have moved to fill at least some of the void created by the decline of the urban machines. New technologies such as Web sites and social networking are enabling these county parties to expand their activities. Local party organizations, in short, are demonstrating again their ability to meet the new challenges posed by a changing environment—a resilience that has kept them alive throughout most of American history.

The state party organizations have followed a different route. Traditionally weak in all but a handful of states, state party organizations have grown much more robust and professional in recent years. They are providing campaign and organizational services to candidates who, in an earlier era, would not have dreamed of looking to their state headquarters for help. In fact, the recent flow of money, resources, and leadership from the national party to the state party, and in turn from the state to the local parties, helped to modify the traditional flow of party power. Through most of their lives, the American parties have been highly decentralized, with power and influence lodged at the grassroots. The parties were hollow at the top, depending on the base for whatever influence and resources they had. Because of the death of urban machines and the birth of vigorous state and national party organizations, we no longer see this extreme form of decentralization. The nationalization of American society and politics has affected the party organizations as well, leading to a greater balance of power among party organizations at different levels.

J———————————68CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations

Yet ironically, although they are much stronger now, the state and local party organizations probably have less impact on our politics than they once did. One reason is that they have much more competition for the attention of voters, candidates, and the media. The campaign communications sent out by the parties merge into a flood of Internet, television, and direct mail fund-raising and advertising by citizen groups, corporate and labor political action committees, and nonprofit groups, all of whom try to influence voters’ choices. Many of these groups encourage individuals to run for office. They can offer candidates money and a means to reach voters independent of the party organization. They have campaign expertise rivaling that of the party’s experts.

Second, although most state parties have become better able to raise funds, the party’s resources are still dwarfed by those of other actors in elections. In state legislative campaigns, for example, this new party money has accounted for only a small fraction of the funds received by most candidates. Campaign— ers are happy for every dollar, of course, but these relatively small sums, even with the helpful services that accompany them, may not be enough to entice candidates to listen carefully to the party on legislative matters or any other concerns.

So the increasing organizational strength of the state and local parties has helped them adopt modern campaign skills and recapture a role in candi- dates’ campaigns. However, it is not a dominant role—not in the way it could have been if party organizations, rather than voters in primaries, selected party candidates. Party organizations rarely run the campaigns; instead, their new resources give them more of a chance to compete for the attention of those who do—the candidates—at a time when other competitors (organized interests, consultants, and others) have become more effective as well.

Does this mean that the increases in party organizational strength are unimportant? Not at all. In a very competitive political environment, there is little doubt that it is better to have a stronger organization than a weaker one and to have more resources rather than fewer. In the end, however, despite all the changes in party organization during the past few decades, their most basic structural features have not changed. The American state and local parties remain cadre organizations run by a small number of activists; they involve the bulk of their supporters mainly at election time. By the standards of parties in other democratic nations, American state and local party organizations are still weaker—more limited in their activities and authority and more easily dominated by a handful of activists and elected officials. But by the standards of American politics, the state and local organizations are more visible and active than they have been in some time.

The Parties’ National Organizations

everal decades ago, the national organizations of both major parties were like many college students: chronically short of cash and searching for new housing. Their small staffs moved back and forth between New

York and Washington, and their activity was visible mainly during presiden- tial campaigns. Leading students of the national committees could accurately describe them as “politics without power.”1 The real power in the party system was decentralized, collected in the local party organizations.

There is good reason why the parties have long been decentralized, as Chapter 3 indicated. Almost all American public officials are chosen in state and local elections; even the voting for president is conducted mainly under state election laws. In years past, most of the incentives parties had to offer, such as patronage jobs, were available at the state and local levels, and the state governments have been the chief regulators of parties. All these forces have given the parties a powerful state and local focus that can restrain any centralization within the party organizations. So state and local party organi- zations have chosen their own officers, taken their own stands on issues, and raised and spent their own funds, usually without much interference from the national party.

In recent years, however, both parties have responded to the powerful nationalizing forces that have affected most other aspects of American politics. Since the 1970s, the two parties have reacted to a series of challenges by strengthening their national committees. Their resources and staffs have grown; both the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Republican National Committee (RNC) are now multimillion-dollar fund-raising and candidate-support operations. They have taken on new activities and influence, and the Democrats have limited the independence of state and local organizations in selecting delegates to the parties’ national conventions.

The change has been remarkable. Only in the earliest years of the American parties, when presidential candidates were nominated by congressional cau- cuses, were the national parties as important in American politics. Although the local pull remains strong, the distribution of power among the national, state, and local parties is now more balanced than ever before. This chapter will examine the effects of this increase in national party power.


—L———_—————70l CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations I

THE NATIONAL PARTIES What is the national party? Officially, each major party’s supreme national authority is the national convention it holds every four years to nominate a presidential candidate. However, the convention rarely does more than to select the presidential and vice-presidential nominees and approve the party’s platform and rules. Between conventions, the two parties’ main governing bodies are their national committees.

The National Committees Each party’s national committee is a gathering of representatives from all its state parties; its leaders run the national party on a daily basis. Their main focus is to help elect the party’s presidential candidate. They also distribute polls and policy information, work with state parties, and assist in other races by recruiting and training candidates and helping them raise money. Both national committees have a long history: The Democrats created theirs in 1848 and the Republicans in 1856. For years, every state (and some territories, such as Samoa and Guam) was represented equally on both national committees, regardless of the size of its vot- ing population or the extent of its party support. California and Wyoming, then, had equal-sized delegations to the national party committees, just as they do in the US. Senate, even though California has a population of about 37 million and Wyoming’s is about 550,000. That system overrepresented the smaller states and also gave roughly equal weight in the national committees to the winning and the losing parts of the party. In practice, this strengthened the southern and western segments of each party, which tended to be more conservative.

Since 1972, when the Democrats revised the makeup of their national com— mittee, the parties have structured their committees differently. After briefly experimenting with unequal state representation in the 195Os, the Republicans have kept their traditional confederational structure by giving each of the state and territorial parties three seats on the RNC. In contrast, the DNC, now almost three times the size of its Republican counterpart, gives weight both to population and to party support in representing the states. California, for example, has 21 seats on the DNC, and Wyoming has 4. This change reduced the influence of conservatives and moderates within the DNC.

The two national committees also differ in that the Democrats give national committee seats to representatives of groups especially likely to support Democratic candidates, such as blacks, women, and labor unions—a decision that shows the importance of these groups to the party—as well as to associations of elected officials, such as the National Conference of Democratic Mayors. National committee members in both parties are chosen by the state parties and, for the Democrats, by these other groups as well.

National Party Chairs The national committee’s chair and the staff he or she chooses are the heart of the national party organization. Members of the full national committees come

_———————I‘TheNational Parties I 71

together only two or three times a year, mainly to call media attention to the party and its candidates. Officially, the national committees have the power to select their own leaders. By tradition, however, a party’s presidential candidate can name his or her party’s national chair for the duration of the presidential campaign, and the committee ratifies this choice without question. The national chair chosen by the winning presidential candidate usually keeps his or her job after the election, at least until the president picks someone else. Thus, in practice, only the “out” par- ty’s national committee actually selects its own chair.2 In both parties, fund-raising is the chair’s most important job (see box “Show them the Money” on this page).

Show Them the Money The main responsibilities of a national party chair are to raise lots of money for the party and build or maintain an effective campaign apparatus. Michael Steele, the first black Republican National Committee chair (2009—2011), served during a period of exceptional election success for Republicans. But that wasn’t enough to make up for Steele’s weakness in fund-raising. He raised much less money than had previous RNC chairs and burned through those funds quickly with lavish spending, raising charges of mismanagement. He also alarmed party activists by criticizing Rush Limbaugh, expressing pro-choice views (in opposition to his party’s platform), and stepping on congressional party leaders’ toes. Several of the RNC’s biggest donors warned that they would not keep raising money if Steele continued in office. 30 when Steele campaigned for a second two-year term in 2011, the RNC said no. Reince Priebus, the former Wisconsin Republican chair; was elected instead. His first challenge was to pay off the $24 million debt the RNC had incurred under Steele’s leadership. Priebus understood his mandate; he raised $3.5 million in his first two weeks on the job and promised to focus on rebuilding relationships with major donors.

Priebus’s counterpart at the Democratic National Committee was former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a close associate of President Obama, who appointed him to the post. Kaine’s tenure earned better reviews than Steele’s; he traveled frequently and held fund-raisers in most states. Although he was criticized by some for his unwillingness to go on the attack, his cooperative style helped to smooth relationships when the Obama grassroots campaign organization, “Obama for America,” was renamed “Organizing for America” (OFA) and moved into the DNC. Some state party leaders worried that OFA would operate independently of the state party structure, but Kaine managed a fairly peaceful transition, in which the DNC took on many of the characteristics of OFA. Kaine resigned in 2011 to run for an open U.S. Senate seat, and Obama appointed US. House member Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a highly skilled fund-raiser, to replace him.

Sources: See Jeff Zeleny, “G.O.P. Elects a New Chairman as Steele Drops Out,” New York Times, January 15, 2011, p. A1; and Ben Smith, “Tim Kaine,” Politico, October 26, 2010, at http://—chair-nice—guy-nasty-time (accessed March 22, 2011).

‘—J——————————f—72CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

Presidents and Their National Parties Presidents came to dominate their national committees early in the twentieth century and especially since the 19605. In the president’s party, then, the national committee’s role is whatever the president wants it to be. James W. Ceaser cites the example of Robert Dole, RNC chair from 1971 to 1973, who was quickly fired by the president when Dole tried to put a little distance between the party and the president’s involvement in the Watergate scandal: “1 had a nice chat with the President while the other fellows went out to get the rope.”3 Some presidents have turned their national committees into little more than managers of the president’s campaigns and builders of the president’s political support between campaigns. Other presidents, such as George W. Bush, have used their control to build up the national committee to achieve party, not just presidential, goals.

When their party does not hold the presidency, the national party chair and committee have the freedom to play a more independent role in national politics. At these times, the “out” party’s national chair becomes one of sev— eral people (including past presidential nominees and congressional leaders) who may speak for the party and its policies. He or she will also need to help pay any debts from the losing presidential campaign, energize the party organization around the country, and—always of prime importance—raise as much new money as possible for the party.

Because of changes in campaign finance rules (see Chapter 12), the national committee has had to work separately from the presidential candi- date’s own campaign organization in presidential elections. To play this more autonomous role, national chairs have recruited staffers with extensive expe— rience in raising money, managing databases, and mobilizing organizers and grassroots supporters.

OTHER NATIONAL PARTY GROUPS Several other party organizations are normally included in the term “the national party,” even though they work independently of one another and often compete for donors, resources, and other sources of power.

Congressional Campaign (“Hill”) Committees The most important of these related groups are each party’s House and Senate campaign committees, called the “Hill committees” (because Congress is located on Capitol Hill) or the CCCs (Congressional Campaign Committees). The House committees were founded in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War; the Senate committees came into being when senators began to be popularly elected in 1913. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) are concerned entirely with House elections, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) fund Senate races.

~——-_i__Other National Party Groups ’ 73

Although incumbent House and Senate members control these committees, they have resisted pressures to work only on behalf of incumbents’ campaigns,- they also support their party’s candidates for open seats and challengers who have a good chance of winning. In short, they concentrate their money where they think they are likely to get the biggest payoff in increasing their party’s representation in Congress. During the past four decades, the Hill committees have developed major fund-raising and service functions, independent of the DNC and RNC. They provide party candidates with a wide range of campaign help, from get—out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts to hard cash (see box “How to Target 3 Congressional Campaign” on page 74). For House and Senate can- didates, the Hill committees are more influential than their parties’ national committees.

Democratic and Republican Governors’ Associations State governors have long had a powerful voice in their national parties, for several reasons. They have won statewide elections for prestigious offices. Many lead or, at least, are supported by their state party organization, and some will be considered potential presidential candidates, such as former gov- ernors George W. Bush of Texas, Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, and Ronald Reagan of California. Governors’ organizational influence in the national parties tends to be greatest, like that of the national committee chair, in the power vacuum that occurs when the other party holds the presidency. The Republican Governors’ Association was especially promi- nent in fund—raising for the 2010 elections, to help make up for the RNC’s financial troubles. State party leaders have also recently formed the Republi- can State Leadership Committee (RSLC) and the Democratic Legislative Cam- paign Committee (DLCC) in order to help fund state legislative and statewide campaigns. The RSLC made a big splash in 2010, spending $31 million in a coordinated nationwide effort.

Women’s and Youth Groups For a long time, both the Democrats and Republicans have had women’s divi- sions associated with their national committees.4 The importance of these women’s divisions has declined markedly in recent decades as women have entered regular leadership positions in the parties.

On campuses, the College Republican National Committee (the CR3) and the College Democrats (whose Web log or “blog” is named Smart Ass, in honor of the party’s donkey mascot) have experienced big increases in mem- bership and numbers of chapters in the 20008. Both these groups train field representatives to recruit volunteers for campaigns at all levels. The CRs have been closely associated with a number of conservative nonparty groups. The Young Democrats of America and the Young Republican National Federation also work actively among high school and college students as well as other young adults.

—J_—*——————————74I CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

Party Networks Just as state and local parties do, the national party committees work closely with a network of allied groups. For the Democrats, these include labor unions, environmental, women’s rights, and civil rights groups, and other lib- eral organizations. Organized labor in particular has supplied the volunteer canvassers and callers so vital to Democratic campaigns. The national Repub- lican network includes small business groups, the National Rifle Association, and groups of conservative Christians. In competitive races, these allied groups often run parallel campaigns to those of the candidates—as do the parties themselves—providing independent media ads, canvassing, and other forms of electioneering,5 as you’ll see in Chapter 12. Several other groups outside of the formal party structure act as “idea factories” for the party in government. For the Democrats, the leftist Center for American Progress and the more mod— erate Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way serve this function. On the Republican side, groups such as the conservative Heritage Foundation and the more libertarian Republican Liberty Caucus try to affect party policy.

How to Target a Congressional Campaign The parties’ Hill committees hope to support all their congressional candidates to at least some degree, but they target a few candidates for much more intensive help.The most important criteria for choosing which campaigns to target are the competitiveness of the district and candidate quality, as measured by the amount of money the candidate has been able to raise (or contribute to his or her own campaign) by June 30 of the election year. Candidates, then, raise money not only to run their campaigns but also to leverage even more money by impressing the party operatives. In giving money directly to candidates, Hill committee targeters also ask, Is the candidate’s organization capable of spending the money effectively? Has he/she effectively generated media coverage? How expensive are the district’s

media? Targeting decisions can change daily as the election approaches, depending on movement in the candidates’ poll numbers and on the parties’ finances.The Hill committees can offer these services to targeted candidates:

– Candidate recruitment and help with hiring and training campaign staff, choos- ing consultants, and making strategic decisions

‘ Development of campaign messages, information about issues, and “oppo” research on the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses

– Advice on making effective television and radio ads at low cost (though the production is done mainly by party—related private consultants)

° Commissioning poll data to gauge the campaign’s progress and measure responses to particular issues and messages


W——————J—TwoPaths to Power I 75


– Contributor lists given to selected candidates on the condition that these candi— dates give their own contributor lists to the party after the election

‘- Fund-raising events in Washington and party leaders’ visits to candidate events, to help candidates raise money and attract votes

– “Hard-money” direct contributions to campaigns*

0 “Coordinated spending” to buy polls, media ads, or research for a candidate* – Independent spending on ads in the candidate’s district” and help in raising

money from political action committees (PACs), other political groups, and individuals.

*Explained in Chapter 12.

Sources: Paul S. Herrnson, Congressional Elections, 5th ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2008), pp. 90—131; and Victoria A. Farrar—Myers and Diana Dwyre, “Parties and Campaign Finance,” in Jeffrey E. Cohen, Richard F leisher, and Paul Kantor, eds., American Political Parties: Decline or Resurgence? (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001), pp. 143—146.

TWO PATHS T0 POWER The national parties have traveled two different roads to reach these new lev- els of effectiveness. The Republicans have followed a service path by building a muscular fund-raising operation that pays for needed services to their candi- dates and state parties. The Democrats, in contrast, first followed a procedural path, strengthening their national party’s authority over the state parties in the selection of a presidential nominee.

The central element in both national parties’ continued development, however, was their ability to attract thousands of small contributions through mass mailings to likely party supporters. This gave the national par- ties, which formerly depended on assessments provided by the state parties, an independent financial base. Ironically, then, at a time when some were warning that the parties were in decline, the national party organizations were reaching levels of strength that had never been seen before in American politics.

The Service Party Path A party organization that supports campaigns with money and other help, as opposed to running the campaigns itself, can be thought of as a “service party.” The foundation for a service party was laid during the 19605, when RNC Chair Ray Bliss involved the committee to a much greater degree in help- ing state and local parties with the practical aspects of party organizational work. Chair William Brock continued this effort in the mid— to late 19705 as a means of reviving the party’s election prospects after the Republican losses of the post-Watergate years. Under Brock, the RNC helped to provide salaries for the executive directors of all 50 state Republican Parties; offered expert

—L_———~——_76‘ CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

assistance to the state parties in organizing, strategizing, and fund-raising; and contributed to more than 4,000 state legislative candidates. Bliss and Brock fashioned a new role for the RNC by making it into an exceptionally effective service organization for the state and local parties.6

There were two keys to success in performing this new service role: money and campaign technologies. Using a marketing innovation of that time, computer~generated mailing lists, the Republicans began a program of direct-mail appeals that brought in ever-higher levels of income. The RNC’s fund—raising jumped from $29 million in 1975—1976 to $105.9 million in “hard money” (contributions regulated by federal law; the terms hard money and soft money are explained in Chapter 12) in 1983—1984—a record for national committee fund-raising that wasn’t broken until 1995 (see Table A.1 in the online Appendix at The RNC used the money, as Bliss and Brock had, to offer a broad array of services to candidates and state and local party organizations, including candidate recruitment and training, research, public opinion polling, data processing, computer network- ing and software development, production of radio and television ads, direct mailing, and legal services. State party leaders were glad to accept the help; as the party more closely identified with the business community, Republicans felt comfortable with these marketing techniques.

The Democrats’ Procedural-Reform Path At about the same time, Democrats expanded the power of their national party organization for other reasons. Reformers supporting the civil rights movement and opposing American involvement in the Vietnam War pressed for change in the Democratic Party’s positions on these issues. The reformers focused on the rules for selecting presidential candidates. Their aim was to make the nominating process more open and democratic and, in particular, more representative of the concerns of people like themselves: blacks, women, and young people.

The reforms started in the mid-19605 with efforts to keep southern Demo- cratic Parties from sending all-white delegations to the national convention and excluding blacks from participation. After the 1968 election, the first of a series of reform commissions overhauled the party’s presidential nominating process. (This story is told in more detail in Chapter 10.) The Democrats lim- ited the autonomy of the state parties and the authority of state law in deter- mining how convention delegates were to be selected, thus giving the national party the authority over the rules for nominating a presidential candidate.7 Key court decisions upheld these actions, further solidifying the newfound power of the national party.

This change was limited to the Democrats, however. Republican leaders, consistent with their party’s commitment to states’ rights, did not want to centralize power in their own party organization.8 Yet the GOP was still affected by the tide of Democratic Party reform because the bills passed by state legislatures to implement the reforms usually applied to both parties.

~___——_————__[—‘TwoPaths to Power ‘ 77

In the early 19805, the Democrats took stock of the reforms and did not like what they saw. The newly centralized authority in nominating a presi- dential candidate and increased grassroots participation in the nominating process had done little to win elections. Further, it had divided the party and alienated much of the Democratic Party in government, many of whom stayed home from party conventions in the 19705. Therefore, the national Demo- crats decided to soft-pedal procedural reforms and move toward the Repub- lican service model. The party rushed to broaden the base of its fund-raising and to help recruit candidates and revitalize state and local party organiza— tions. When the dust from all this effort settled, authority over party rules had become more nationalized, and what had been two models for strengthening the national party were rapidly converging into one.9

Both Parties Take the Service Path The good news for the Democrats in the 1980s was that they were dramatically improving their fund-raising, reducing their long—standing debt, and increasing their activities in the states and localities. The bad news was that the Republi- cans were far ahead of them to begin with and were continuing to break new ground. The national Democrats made no secret of their effort to imitate the Republican success in raising money and using it to buy services. Slowly, they began to catch up; what began as a three-to—one and even five-to-one financial advantage for the Republicans was reduced over time (see Figure 4.1).

One reason was the Democratic Party’s increasing reliance on “soft money” (see Chapter 12)—funds donated to party organizations in unlimited amounts, most often by labor unions, businesses, and wealthy individuals, and exempted from federal campaign finance rules. Big contributions from labor unions made it easier for the Democrats to compete with Republicans in soft money than they could in raising federally regulated donations. Both national parties’ committees began major efforts to solicit soft money in the early 19903. In 2000, the national Republicans established the “Republican Regents” pro- gram for individuals and corporations who gave at least $250,000 in soft money to the party during a two-year period, which helped produce record soft-money donations. The Democratic “Jefferson Trust” honored givers of at least $100,000. By that year, almost half of the national parties’ fund-raising came in the form of soft money.

Some of the money went into building up the state and even the local parties. A much larger portion of the national parties’ money went into races for the U.S. House and Senate. Since the mid-1980s, both parties provided increasing amounts of aid to selected candidates. The Republican committees opened an early lead; the stunning success of GOP candidates in the 1994 con- gressional elections, for example, was due in part to aggressive fund-raising as well as candidate recruitment by their Hill committees.

Campaign finance reform adopted in 2002 (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA, discussed in Chapter 12) barred the national com- mittees from collecting soft money after the 2002 elections. The Democrats

—L_—————_—————78l CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

800 — Republicans — – Democrats _





Million s

of Dollar




100 0 0 0 ‘L h e 0 0 Q, v 0 e

\°’\ \°’\ 9% 9% 9% 9% 9% x°g ’99 9% 9% ’99 09 Q, ‘7963/ ,\/ 9/ \/ (b/ 63/ /\/ 9/ N/ (b/ b/ /\/ 9/ N/ (b/ 63/ 0″ 0″ 0″ 0° 0° 0° ° 0° 0° 0° 0° 0° 0° 0° 0° 0°N N N N N N N N N N N N Q, (I;

00v000000%00 0(190x Q9/\/

(29° (19°N Ratio of Republican to Democratic Receipts:

2.9 3.2 4.6 5.5 3.0 3.9 2.1 2.4 1.5 1.8 1.9 1.8 1.7 2.0 1.1 1.2 1.0 —0.9

FIGURE 4.1 Democratic and Republican Fund-Raising, 1975-1976 to 2009—2010.

Note: The data points are total party receipts (including state/local, House, Senate, and national committees) in millions of dollars. Soft money is not included, nor is money (after 1987) transferred among committees. Table A.1 in the online Appendix (at provides a breakdown of these totals by type of party committee within each party.

Source: Federal Election Commission, at|i_summary_Data.shtm| (accessed July 6, 2011).

saw the coming ban on national party soft money as a particular threat because their soft-money collections had been flourishing—the Democratic Hill committees outraised their Republican counterparts in soft money by $151 million to $136 million in ZOOZ—but their federally regulated contribu- tions had expanded only gradually.

Rising to the Challenge of New Campaign Finance Rules Once the BCRA rules came into effect in the 2004 campaigns, many observers felt that the loss of soft money would seriously weaken the national parties. In fact, the transfers of money from national party committees to state and local parties dropped markedly in most states, because BCRA allowed the transfer of federally regulated money only. But as they have so often in their history, the parties adapted successfully to the new rules.

b——_——_—LTWOPaths to Power | 79

Who Got the Most National Party Money in 2007—2008 and 2009—2010?

State parties

2007—2008 Ohio Democratic Party

$10.3 million Florida Democratic Party

$10.1 million Florida Republican Party

$9.9 million Pennsylvania Democratic Party

$7.4 million


Virginia Republican Party $4.9 million

Pennsylvania Democratic Party $4.3 million

Florida Democratic Party $3.6 million

New Jersey Democratic Party $3.6 million

Senate candidates (including party direct contributions, coordinated spending, and party independent spending)

Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat (challenger—won) $12.5 million

Kay Hagan, North Carolina Democrat (challenger—won) $11.7 million

Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat (challenger—won) $9.6 million

Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat (challenger—won) $9.5 million

Kenneth Buck, Colorado Republican (challenger—lost) $11.4 million

Patrick Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican (challenger~won) $8.8 million

Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois Democrat (open seat—lost) $7.7 million

Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrat (incumbent—won) $7.4 million

House candidates (including party direct contributions, coordinated spending, and party independent spending)

Travis Childers, Mississippi Democrat (incumbent—won) $3.1 million

Carol Shea Porter, New Hampshire Democrat (incumbent—won) $2.5 million

John A. Boccieri, Ohio Democrat (incumbent—lost) $3.1 million

Mark Schauer, Michigan Democrat (incumbent— lost) $2.9 million

Note: National party money includes money spent or transferred by all six national party committees (DNC, RNC, NRSC, DSCC, NRCC, and DCCC).

Source: Federal Election Commission data, at (accessed July 6, 2011).

’—L__————_—_w80‘ CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

Both national parties tried to make up for the lost soft money by working harder to attract hard-money donations from individuals. The DNC greatly expanded its direct mail fund-raising program, which had been minimal during the 19905, and reaped millions of new donors. In all, the DNC collected almost five times as much federally regulated money in 2004 as it had in 2002—$312 million compared with $67 million, and raised more than 40 percent of its total fund—raising in contributions of less than $200. The DCCC and the RNC both doubled their hard-money fund-raising in 2004, and the DSCC came close. BCRA made it easier for the party committees to raise hard money by setting the cap on an individual’s aggregate donations to party and political action committees (which reached $70,800 in 2012) higher than the aggregate cap on donations to candidates. Both parties encouraged big hard-money donors to solicit similar contributions from their friends and colleagues and to “bundle” these donations to reach totals of $100,000 or $200,000 or more, in return for recognition from the party.

With all these incentives, the national parties broke all fund-raising records in the 20003. Even after the BCRA reforms, the two parties’ national and Hill committees came up with an eye-popping $1.7 billion in 2004 and more in 2008. Remarkably, the Democrats almost matched the Republican Party’s fund-raising during the 2008 election cycle for the first time in at least 30 years, and actually outraised the Republicans nationally in 2010.

Party Money and Activism in 2008, 2010, and 2012 Although the biggest portion of party fund-raising comes from individual citizens, an increasing proportion of the contributors to party committees and candidates were members of Congress. In the early 1990s, some Republican House leaders, fed up with their long-time minority status, pressed party colleagues to donate some of their campaign war chests to Republicans in more competitive races. The aim was to redirect campaign money from those who could most easily raise it to those who most needed it and therefore to increase the number of Republicans in the House. Winning a majority of seats would give all House Republicans the power to achieve their policy goals, given that the flow of legislation in the House is controlled by the majority party. Republicans did capture control of both the House and Senate in 1994, and soon after, the new Democratic minority also saw the value of spreading the wealth to help vulnerable incumbents and promising challengers.

Since then, both parties’ Hill committees have urged, and even required, their members to channel money to the party committee, not just to particular can- didates. This gives the party the opportunity to target the races it considers the most winnable, rather than leaving the decisions to individual incumbent donors. House members can donate funds from their personal campaign committees and their “leadership PACs” (see Chapter 12) and also ask their own contributors to give to the party’s Hill committee. In 2010, for instance, the DCCC chair asked for contributions of $1 million from each of the powerful committee chairs, $250,000 or $150,000 from many others, and $30,000 from rank-and-file Democratic House members. The House Speaker at the time, Nancy Pelosi,

_——_—_———j—TwoPaths to Power 81

raised more than $23 million for the DCCC. In the Senate, the leading donor was Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who gave $4 million to his party and colleagues from his unused campaign funds. Each member’s contributions were tracked by party leaders, just as party whips track legislative votes.10

Getting members of Congress to give to their parties can be a difficult sell, especially for incumbents of the weaker party, who are understandably worried about protecting their own seats. As a result, although Democratic senators and House members gave their Hill committees more than twice as much as Republicans did in 2008,11 their donations were harder to get in 2010 when Democratic incumbents feared for their own reelection. But the parties’ success in getting incumbents to hand over these impressive sums and to put their fund-raising skill in the service of other party candidates demonstrates the extent to which the congressional parties have become important instru- ments of collective power for their members.

The increased fund—raising from Congress members and other sources gave the Democratic committees the money to take a page or two from the Repub- licans’ playbook. Starting in 2000, the national GOP had created a massive databank of voter information gleaned from party canvassers and commercial databases—individuals’ past voting records and their opinions and consumer preferences—so that, just as corporate market researchers do, party strategists could make predictions as to how particular types of people were likely to behave. This “micro-targeting” helped the Republicans focus their persuasive efforts and GOTV activities on the individuals most likely to support Republican candidates. The resulting database, called Voter Vault, required funding and computer facili- ties on a scale that the national Republicans could afford. It was widely heralded as a major reason for the Republican victories in 2002 and 2004.

Democrats were slow to respond, but later created two separate national databases. One, maintained by the DNC, was made available to Democratic candidates at all levels. The other, a huge dataset managed by Catalist, an organization headed by Democratic political operative Harold Ickes, was used extensively by the Obama campaign and liberal groups supporting Obama. Voter contact programs (“field operations”) based on these datasets were field— tested in some congressional special elections in 2008, all of which resulted in Democratic wins. The DCCC and DSCC then applied these programs nation- ally, beginning well in advance of the presidential election.

By early September 2008, the DCCC had four times more money than did the NRCC to spend on House races and embarked on a lavish independent spending drive. As you’ll see in Chapter 12, court cases have allowed party organizations to run unlimited amounts of advertising in House and Senate campaigns as long as the party spends its money independently of the candidate it intends to help (“independent spending”). This produces the odd picture of two groups of partisans from the same party—those helping the candidate and those doing independent spending—working to elect the same candidate but officially ignorant of one another’s activities. The great majority of party funds in recent House and Senate races have come in the form of independent spending (see Figures 4.2 and 4.3). Although the Republican

_—J———/82CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

D Independent spending I Coordinated spending

, El Direct contributions

Million s

of dollar


O Q‘ Q ‘2‘ Q ‘2“<2; q; o o q, q,o ’99 (Loo (Loo

Q Q”0 Q39 9,9 ,9 ,9

{963/ \qu ’99? \gg« \qgg 9‘? ‘90″ (796‘ :19 «9 Q9

FIGURE 4.2 National Party Money in House Races, 1995—1996 to 2009—2010.

Source: Federal Election Commission, at (accessed

July 6, 2011).

Million s

of dollar


uneaseaccessoaeoesQ Q‘ Q Q“ Qo o ‘b ‘b o9‘5 ,9“ .99 ,5? 0°’\

(0/ 93/ ’\/ ’\/ Q/q’Q) °.> Q) 9 Q) ’9 ’9 \°-’ ’9 \Q‘

Xx N’fb’rb’b’b’a’a’o’o’39 (I90 090 (I90 (29o (190 (190 (Loo (19o (Lee (190

FIGURE 4.3 National Party Money in Senate Races, 1995—1996 to 2009—2010.

Source: Federal Election Commission, at| (accessed July 6, 2011).

.————————L’Whatis the Impact of These Stronger National Parties? ‘ 83

committees’ independent spending fell dramatically in 2008, in tandem with their election prospects, Democratic spending reached unprecedented levels. The DCCC put $1 million or more into each of 38 House races, largely open seats and challengers’ campaigns, and won most of them.

Freshman legislators, especially those elected in districts that normally vote for the other party’s candidates, tend to be most vulnerable in their first reelection race. To protect the freshman Democrats elected in 2006, Democratic House leaders had given them helpful committee assignments and followed up with careful targeting of funds and other services. With this help, only four of the freshman Democrats lost in 2008. Flush with money, the DCCC also aggressively went after Republican-held seats, recruiting experienced challengers and backing them with party funds. The NRCC was forced to use most of its independent spending to defend embattled incumbents.12

The parties’ situations were reversed in 2010. The Democratic Party “brand” suffered mightily after 2008 due to the continuing economic down- turn and President Obama’s controversial health care and stimulus programs. Democratic committees pulled back in 2010 to support only those vulnerable incumbents with a chance of winning, whereas the NRCC had the opportunity to successfully target some powerful Democratic veterans as well as a number of freshmen who had been elected in 2008 in Republican-leaning districts. The result was a record-breaking Republican sweep.

But the NRCC then had 87 freshman incumbents to defend in 2012. It raised money to support the most promising candidates by offering these “Young Guns” funding, training, and other assistance. In its “Patriot Program,” begun in 2009, the committee set a series of fund-raising, voter contact, and coalition-building benchmarks for the freshmen and some other vulnerable incumbents if they wanted to get NRCC money. Since the mid-19805, then, both national parties have become institutionalized as active, well-staffed “service parties” working to support party candidates and state and local party organizations, not only through direct contributions and independent spending but also through investments in voter identification and database management. 13

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF THESE STRONGER NATIONAL PARTIES? These dramatic changes in the national party organizations have helped to beef up the parties’ roles in nominating and electing candidates, roles that had been seriously undercut a century ago with the advent of the direct primary. To an important degree, the national and state parties are now actively involved in the campaign support functions that private campaign consultants and other political groups had monopolized until recently. The money and services provided by the national parties have helped to raise their profiles in the eyes of candidates. The increasing strength of the national parties has also altered the relationships within the parties.

—|~————_—_—84CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

Effects on Candidates’ Campaigns The strengthened national parties perform a number of vital functions in presidential campaigns. As we have seen, both national committees research issues, study the opponent’s record and background, and search for their own candidate’s weak points and ways to thwart attacks. They train state party staff and field directors and maintain relationships with important groups in the par- ty’s network.

In Senate and House campaigns, however, there have been some marked recent changes m’ the national parties’ decisions as to where to deploy their new- found strength. In the 1980s and 19903, the national party committees had sup- ported a wide range of viable candidates. The committees tended to protect their incumbents when they expected a lean election year and to invest in challengers and open seats when a big victory looked likely. But by the early 2000s, the House and Senate were so closely divided by party and the number of truly competitive seats had shrunk so much that both parties’ congressional committees were pour- ing the great majority of their money and help into those competitive races.14

There was so much party money and field staff coming into these com- petitive campaigns that at least in those targeted races, party money at times outweighed candidate spending. The national party committees’ money and other resources have given them real power over the targeted campaigns. For instance, early in the 2000s, the national parties spent more in a closely fought Colorado congressional race than the candidates’ own campaigns did, and the national party committees specified exactly what the campaigns had to do with the party money. The Democratic candidate’s campaign manager probably spoke for both candidates in his exasperation at the national party’s micromanaging: “They crawl up our ass on a daily basis.”15Although most candidates are grateful for the support, the party—funded advertising can some- times backfire. Party-funded ads are much more likely to feature attacks on the opposition than are the candidates’ own ads. Because most voters do not distinguish between candidate and party ads, a candidate can be tarred with a negative image that he or she has worked hard to avoid.

The “wave” elections in 2008 and 2010 greatly expanded the playing field for the dominant party. But most congressional races are not competi- tive. In the remaining elections, the national party committees have not put in enough money or other resources to attract even some attention from, much less power over, the candidates and their staffs. That can result in a great deal of frustration for the less-competitive candidates and, in some cases, missed opportunities. As Gary Jacobson points out, nine Democratic House challeng- ers lost narrowly in 2008, each receiving more than 45 percent of the vote, but did not receive substantial help from the DCCC. Some of these candidates might have won if they had received party money.”

Effects on State and Local Parties More generally, have the increasing visibility and resources of the national parties led to a transfer of power from the state and local to the national party

~——__~_——_—_——_l—Whatis the Impact of These Stronger National Parties? l 85

organizations—to centralization rather than decentralization of the parties? Probably not. The forces that encourage a state and local party focus remain strong.

But it is clear that the national parties’ new strength has lessened the decentralization of the party organizations. When the national parties have a lot of money and services to give, their power and influence grow. In a number of cases, as in the Colorado campaign mentioned above, national party committees have made their funding or other help contingent on the campaign’s or state party’s acceptance of certain requirements: that they hire particular staffers or consultants or use particular campaign techniques. The result can be more of a national imprint on the nature of state and even local campaigns, the kinds of candidates recruited, and the ways in which the parties are organized. Is this a good thing for American politics? “Which Would You Choose?” (on this page) provides arguments on both sides of this question.


Could a Stronger National Party Help You? YES! Political parties offer you a valuable shortcut. Government decisions affect almost everything you do, but you may not have time to research dozens of complicated issues (health care, energy prices) and candidates in order to vote for those who will act in your interest. A party can do the research for you. If you gen- erally agree with, say, the Republican Party, it can offer you a set of recommended candidates with no effort on your part. But if each state and local Republican organization can act independently, and if some of these organizations are moder- ate and others are conservative, then how can you be sure that your state and local Republican candidates will support the positions that drew you to the party? A strong national party could help recruit candidates whose views are consistent with the party’s philosophy and help them get elected. Besides, who would you rather

have raising campaign money: the national party or the individual candidates who will soon be voting on bills affecting the donors’ interests?

NO! The United States is very diverse; the concerns of Democrats in Omaha may well be different from those in San Francisco, New Hampshire, and the Florida Panhandle. If a national party is strong enough to promote a clear set of ideas on what government should be doing, then whose ideas should it promote: those of the Omaha Democrats or the San Francisco Democrats? If a national party is strong enough to elect its candidates, wouldn’t it be capable of telling them how to vote in Congress, whether or not their constituents agree? Even if a national party organization confines itself to raising money and giving it to candidates, doesn’t that give the national organization a great deal of influence over state and even local candidates? In a nation with a tradition of hostility to “boss rule, ” couldn’t a strong national party raise those fears again?

—l—_——————————86CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

At times, state parties have welcomed this national involvement. One of the more successful examples of national and state party cooperation was for- mer DNC Chair Howard Dean’s “SO-state strategy” in the 2006 and 2008 elections. As Chapter 3 mentioned, Dean used DNC money to pay field orga- nizers to work with each of the state parties. Colorado, for instance, had been a Republican state for several decades but had experienced an influx of younger, more liberal voters in the early 20005. 80 starting in 2005, the DNC provided money for the state party to fund field directors in rural areas and to purchase a new database of voter information. The DNC investment also invigorated several other state parties in areas that the national Democrats had previously written off as Republican-dominated. One study found that these DNC staffers improved the candidates’ vote totals in these races, even beyond the other advantages that Democrats had in 2006.17 Dean and his support- ers argued that this was the foundation for the Obama campaign’s successful national strategy in 2008.18 The Obama campaign felt differently, noting that it had relied almost entirely on its own staff and money in these “red” states; it contended that the candidate’s own strengths and the Bush administration’s weaknesses were at least as important.”

Under other conditions, the increased national influence can strain the relationships among party organizations at different levels, just as it has pro- duced strains between the parties and some candidates. One of the areas of greatest conflict between the national parties and their state and local brethren centers on national party involvement in primaries. It is always a temptation for national party officials to try to select and groom the candi- date they think will have the best odds of winning in a district. The House and Senate campaign committees, whose chance for a majority in Congress depends on the effectiveness of candidates in competitive races, dread the possibility that a less-capable candidate will win their party’s primary and go on to run a less-than-professional campaign for the seat. But the risk of becoming involved is that if the national party backs a candidate who later loses the primary, then the party could suffer; it might alienate the winning candidate, make itself look weak, and even split the state party and lose the election.

In 2010, Republican national leaders took that risk. After a wide range of candidates flooded into Republican primaries, anticipating a coming Repub- lican wave, the national Republican campaign committees endorsed the can- didates in a number of House and Senate primaries who they felt were most likely to win the general election. In several of these states, Tea Party sup- porters and other strongly conservative voters rejected the party establish- ment’s advice. Perhaps the best example was the Delaware Senate race, where the national and state parties’ preferred candidate for the nomination was defeated by a Tea Party-endorsed challenger, Christine O’Donnell. A cam- paigner with an all-too-colorful past, O’Donnell decided to deal with an ear- lier admission that she had dabbled in witchcraft by opening her first general election TV ad with the words, “I am not a witch.” The ad quickly went Viral, and O’Donnell lost the November election—a seat the national party had

_———————_—I_Whatis the Impact of These Stronger National Parties? I 87

considered a likely pick-up if its preferred candidate had won the primary. Although the NRSC chair vowed to stay out of Republican primaries in 2012, the national Republicans did convince a number of “A list” candidates to run in the hopes of gaining a Senate majority in that year, far outstripping the DSCC’s recruitment successes.

In short, when national party committees use their money to affect the choice of candidates or the direction of a campaign, it is likely that there will be ruffled feathers within the state party and the campaign, who feel that they are better judges of what works in the district (see box “Hoosier Candidate?” on this page). That was the case with the Democrats in 2006, when DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel bulldozed more than a few local party chairs to get moderate candidates nominated in socially conservative areas and thus increase the party’s likelihood of winning.20 However, the temptation will always be present; Emanuel, after all, could claim that these moderate “majority makers” produced the Democratic victories that brought the party a House majority in that year.

Hoosier Candidate? Moderate Democrat Evan Bayh’s popularity in the Hoosier state was legend. But the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) thought it had found a candidate who could beat Bayh for reelection to the US. Senate from Indiana. The N RSC courted former Indiana Senator Dan Coats and convinced him to run. Some state Republican leaders and Tea Party groups did not appreciate the national party’s efforts. They felt that Coats was too moderate, too weak on gun rights, and had few remaining ties to Indiana politics. They resented the interference of “Washington insiders” in a state contest. One Tea Party group e—mailed supporters with this subject line: “NO to RNC/Coats for force feeding us this crap sandwich.“ Although Coats did win the primary, the national party’s efforts to endorse the most electable candidates prior to the primaries raised controversy in several other states as well, including New Hampshire, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, and Delaware. And when Bayh announced suddenly that he would not seek reelection, and state and national Democratic leaders worked to clear the primary field for Democratic US. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, Republicans campaigned against Ellsworth as the candidate of party “bosses.” In short, national party pressure to nominate an electable candidate can backfire, especially when local and state activists value ideological purity over electability (see Chapter 5). A reporter concluded, tongue in cheek, “The public, it turns out, prefers a say in the electoral process.”

Sources: Alex Isenstadt, “Coats Comeback Hits GOP Pushback,” Politico, February 13, 2010, at www.politico.c0m/news/stories/0210/32922.html (accessed March 23, 2011); and Carl Hulse, “Seeing Hand—Picked as a Bad Thing,” New York Times, March 12, 2010, p. 1.

—_‘———_—_—_‘88CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

Effects on the Presidency Is a stronger national party likely to compete with the president’s power or to add to it? Clearly, the increasing resources of the national committees give them the opportunity for a more independent political role. Federal funding of presidential campaigns, with its strict limits on party spending for presiden- tial races, freed the national committees from their traditional concentration on presidential elections and allowed them to dedicate at least some of their resources to party-building at the state and local level. At the same time, the party committees carved out new roles in raising money for use in federal campaigns.

On the other hand, these new capabilities make the national committee an even more attractive resource for presidents. Naturally, presidents want the new party power to be at their service, and every president in recent mem~ ory has kept his party’s national committee on a short leash. RNC Chair Jim Gilmore was edged out in late 2001, for example, because he clashed with the White House over control of the committee. Presidents will certainly want the party committees to mobilize all those members of Congress whom they recruited, trained, financed, and helped elect to support the president’s pro- gram. Presidents in their first term will want to draw on the assets of the national party for their reelection campaigns, as much as campaign finance rules permit. Thus, there is considerable pressure on these stronger national parties to put their capabilities at the service of presidential goals.

Effects on Congress At around the time that the Hill committees have become much more active in recruiting and supporting party candidates, Congress members have been more likely to cast legislative votes with the majority of their party (as Chapter 13 shows). Did these new campaign resources help convince Congress members to vote for their party’s positions on bills? To this point, the party committees have not given out campaign money and services on the basis of a candidate’s support for the party’s program. In 2010, for instance, the DCCC gave only last—second aid to Colorado incumbent Betsy Markey in her close (and ultimately losing) race in Colorado, though she supported the Demo- cratic leadership on some tough votes in Congress, whereas it spent $1 million on ads in the campaign of Bobby Bright, an Alabama Democrat who had cast hundreds of votes against his party leaders. Party funds usually go to competi— tive races rather than to candidates who are ideologically “pure.”21

Even though the party committees have not used their funding to influ— ence the ideological complexion of Congress, some members of the party in Congress have tried to do so. In 2010, conservative Republican Senator Jim DeMint used his leadership PAC—groups whose contributions are normally used to gain a leadership position for the PAC’s sponsor by helping other members—to funnel campaign money to strong conservative candidates such as Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio, running in the primary for a Florida Senate

__—_—————__l—TheLimits of Party Organization l 89

seat. DeMint’s aim was to make the Senate Republican contingent more deeply conservative.

Yet the committees have not been bashful in reminding members, especially newly elected members, that the party played some role in their election success. Party campaign help is only one part of the story of party support in Congress, but the remarkable cohesion of the House Republicans since 1995 was surely bolstered by the party leadership’s financial and other support for Republican candidates. Constituency pressures will always come first in Congress. However, the more that senators and representatives can count on campaign help from the congressional party, the more open they will be to party-based appeals.

Relationships Within the National Party The three national committees of each party—the DNC or RNC and the party’s Hill committees—have good reasons to cooperate with one another. When the party’s presidential candidate does well, most of the voters he or she attracts will also vote for the Senate and House candidates of the president’s party. Similarly, an effectively run Senate campaign can bring out voters for party colleagues running for president and House seats.

But the party’s resources are not unlimited, and each of the party’s national committees would prefer the biggest share. Democratic congressio- nal candidates in 2010 worried that the DNC’s activities in their districts might have more to do with laying the groundwork for the 2012 Obama reelection campaign than with supporting their own races. In the run—up to the 2012 election, DNC efforts to raise money from wealthy donors for Obama’s campaign threatened the ability of the Democratic Hill committees to get substantial donations from the same sources, because individuals’ total donations to committees, campaigns, and PACs are limited (see Chapter 12). The party committees have long competed with one another in raising as well as spending money. They seek financial support from the same contributors (and jealously guard their contributor lists) and recruit political talent from the same limited pool.

THE LIMITS OF PARTY ORGANIZATION In sum, the national party organizations have recently generated remarkable amounts of new money and other resources. They have used these resources, expertise, and energy to become major players relative to the state and local parties and major influences on the lives of many federal and even state-level candidates. Organizations capable of raising and spending a billion dollars during a two-year period are not easily ignored. The rise of Super PACs (see Chapter 12) is likely to cut into the parties’ fund—raising capability, but the national party organizations remain stronger than they have been through most of their history.

—L—_——————_—90‘ CHAPTER 4 The Parties’ National Organizations

This impressive increase in strength has not come at the expense of the state and local parties; in fact, the national parties have used at least some of their resources to build the capabilities of these party organizations. Nor has the national parties’ new strength made the local and state party organizations into branch offices of their national parties, following their orders in develop- ing campaign strategy and taking stands on public policy. There are still too many forces in American politics encouraging independence, especially in the local parties, to permit the two major parties to centralize their organization and power. The federal system, in which most public officials are elected at the local level, the separation of powers, variations among states and local areas in public attitudes and regulation of the parties, and the BCRA rules that dis— courage cooperative campaigns between federal and nonfederal candidates all work against a centralized party system.

Thus, as resource rich as they have become, the American party organizations remain fairly decentralized by international standards. At a time when Americans can be assured of getting the same Big Mac in Cincinnati as they can in San Diego, the American parties lack the top—down control and efficiency, the unified setting of priorities, and the central responsibility that we often find in other nations’ parties. Where the party organizations of many other Western democracies have had permanent, highly professional leadership and large party bureaucracies, most American party organizations, especially at the local level, are still in the hands of part—time activists.22

The parties have increased their emphasis on grassroots campaigning through canvassing and phone banks and have used the information to develop micro-targeting, aiming specific messages at individuals known to be receptive to those messages. Yet even this greater reach into the grass- roots may not be enough to make the party organizations more prominent in the public’s mind. The parties’ messages focus on the candidates rather than on the party itself. More professional, service-oriented parties may be better at helping candidates run for office than in expanding the role of the party organization in citizens’ political thinking.23 American political values do not welcome stronger and more centralized party organizations with more power in American political life.

The American party organizations are fundamentally flexible and election oriented. Their purpose is to support candidates for office and to make the adjustments needed to do well in a pragmatic political system. As a result, they have long been led by candidates and officeholders, not by career party bureaucrats. As the political system grows more polarized, the party organizations have taken the opportunity to expand their roles and to add to the polarization. But at least to this point, even though the national party committees now have unprecedented levels of funding and activity, they remain candidate-centered organizations in a candidate-centered political world.

The Political Party as an Organization

When you hear the term “party organization,” what comes to mind? For many Americans, the image is of a few older White guys, party “bosses,” dividing up the spoils of winning in a smoke—filled room. That image may have been accu- rate a hundred years ago. It isn’t now. But because the party organization is less visible than the party’s candidates, it remains mysterious even to many par- tisans. The next three chapters will examine the formal party organization— the set of party committees and volunteers who work at all the levels at which Americans elect public officials: precincts, townships, wards, cities, counties, congressional districts, states, and the federal government—and the informal groups of activists who give life to these organizations. How do the party organizations work, and how have they changed over time? What kinds of people become party activists? These internal characteristics influence the par— ty’s ability to act effectively in the larger political system.

American party organizations vary tremendously, from powerful and elaborate structures to empty shells. Compared with those of other Western democracies, however, most American party organizations would be considered fairly weak. Shackled by state laws, the party organizations have rarely been able to exercise much influence over the other two parts of a party.- the party’s candidates and officeholders (the party in government) and the party in the electorate.

The three parts of any party differ in their goals. In an election, for instance, the party organization and party activists hope to support as many of the party’s candidates as possible, whereas each individual candidate wants as much of the party’s money as he or she can get, and party voters are concerned instead with taxes or same-sex marriage or cheaper college tuition. Each seeks control of the party to achieve its own ends. In the American system, the party organizations find it difficult to hold their own in this competition and to get the resources they need to influence elections and promote policies. American party organizations can’t translate their platform planks into law; they must depend on the members of their party

——|-_—_——————_———’48PART II The Political Party as an Organization

in government to do that. Party organizations must work hard to court and mobilize the party electorate, who may be loyal party voters at some times but more fickle at others.

This lack of integration among the party’s component parts is typical of cadre parties—one of two terms often used to describe the nature of party organizations. Imagine that party organizations are arranged along a con- tinuum. At one end is the cadre party, in which the organization is run by a relatively small number of leaders and activists with little or no broader public participation. These officials and activists make the organization’s decisions, choose its candidates, and select the strategies they believe voters will find appealing. They focus largely on electing party candidates rather than on issues. Thus, the party becomes active mainly during campaigns, when candidates need their party organization’s help the most. The cadre party, then, is a coalition of people and interests brought together tempo- rarily to win elections, only to shrink to a smaller core once the elections are over.

At the other end of this scale is the mass-membership party, a highly participatory organization in which all three parts of the party are closely intertwined. In this type of party, large numbers of voters become dues—paying members of the party organization and participate in its activities year-round, not just during campaigns. A mass—membership party concentrates on promoting an ideology and educating the public as well as on winning elections. Its members decide what the party’s policies should be as well as choose its organizational leaders. Members of the party in the electorate are so integral to the party organization that the party may even provide them with such nonpolitical benefits as insurance and leisure-time activities. Because the membership-based party organization has great power over candidate selection—it does not need to give less involved voters the right to choose party candidates in a primary election—it can also exercise much greater control over the party in government.

In important ways, the major American parties can be considered cadre parties. The great majority of local and state party leaders and activists are not paid professionals but volunteers, whose party activities ramp up around election time. These organization leaders do not try hard to control the party’s candidates and elected officials, nor are they likely to succeed. Most party identifiers in the United States are not involved at all in the party organization.

They do not fit the cadre mold perfectly; in practice, parties have a tendency to slip out of precise definitions.1 For example, party leaders contact their supporters in the electorate more frequently now than they did a few decades ago, and the state and national party organizations are active year—round. Nevertheless, these changes have not made the major American parties into mass—membership organizations. The major parties concentrate on electing candidates more than on educating voters on issues.

Why does it matter whether party organizations are strong or weak, cadre or mass membership? Because party organizations are at the very core