Party bureaucracy reforms

There are a variety of changes to Democratic party bureaucracy - i.e. the operation of formally-organized party committees, including the Democratic National Committee, state parties, and others - which could make the party more effective and win more elections. These reforms are noteworthy because they’re entirely within the control of the party itself, and in some cases require only modest funding. These include:

  • More robust funding for “red” state parties. This issue arose during Doug Jones’s 2017 race for Senate, and will probably be an issue in future elections as well. Howard Dean made this idea the centerpiece of his 2005 campaign for DNC Chair - he termed it the Fifty State Strategy. This strategy had its proponents and detractors. Critics worried that the strategy diverted scarce resources to allegedly-hopeless candidates. Proponents argued that it provided much-needed help for down-ballot races that could compete in “purple” districts, as well as infrastructure for occasional races which became unexpectedly competitive at the state level. Senator Jones discussed his experience with state party disorganization in his Great Battlefield interview. The story of leadership within the Alabama Democratic Party after Jones’s election is quite complex - there was quite a bit of conflict within the state party on this point. That drama only serves to undermine the importance of creating stable, well-organized and consistently-active state and local parties. Doug Turner also discussed this idea in his Great Battlefield episode, at about the 28:42 mark.
  • Create an in-house creative media agency which endures past election cycles within the DNC - somewhat parallel to the Technology department. Such an agency could help the DNC and allied committees rapidly iterate on design assets during fast-moving election or legislative campaigns, by eliminating contracting overhead and prioritization issues at outside design agencies. Ben Ostrower discusses this idea in his Great Battlefield episode at about 1:03:00.
  • Add support for constituencies which are largely under-represented within the Democratic coalition, like rural voters, at the national party. Matt Hildreth discussed this idea, as it relates to rural organizing, in his Great Battlefield interview at 44:00.
  • Reduce turnover at the Democratic National Committee and other party committees, so that institutional knowledge is better preserved. Such an idea may require the craetion of some kind of endowment, or other steady revenue stream, which would allow the party committee to have a stable core of employees during off-cycle years. Patrick Stevenson discussed this idea during his Great Battlefield interview at about the 26:11 mark. Former DNC CTO Nell Thomas described her dedication to staff longevity in her farewell blog post as well as her reflections on the 2020 election cycle.
  • Improve the organization of Coordination Committees. These are important entities which help general-election statewide campaigns share resources and coordinate outreach to voters. However, they are often organized on a very short timeline and with a great deal of political haggling, especially in states with late primaries. State parties could play a role in establishing coordinating committees early on, even before a primary occurs, so that they can be more effective once primary winners are decided. Jeremy Smith described this problem in his Great Battlefield interview at about the 9:28 mark.
  • Maintain partisanship models within state parties
  • Centralize the “research book” for candidates and their opponents across a broad swath of races. This approach saves campaigns time and money once they win a primary, and is already in place in some key committees. Noam Lee discusses this idea in his Great Battlefield interview at 16:59.
  • Reduce the degree to which the DCCC and DSCC rely on TV for outreach, and build a “digital evangelist” corps which focuses on using social media for persuasion. David Yankovich discusses this idea in his Great Battlefield interview at about 51:00.
  • Use party-controlled resources to push candidates to modernize their practices, especially around email and digital practices. The DNC’s rules around presidential debate access in the 2020 cycle - which held that candidates needed to amass a certain number of donors in order to gain access to the debate stage - are widely credited with expanding the base of small-dollar donors within the progressive movement. Eric Wilson praised this idea in his discussion of the state of online fundraising at about the 27:20 mark, and it appears the Republican National Committee will follow suit in 2024. The effectiveness of this approach proves that more generally, the party can push candidates to adopt practices which benefit the movement as a whole. The idea has not yet been tried at more local levels, or in other contexts, but it validates the party committee’s role in setting norms.
  • Consolidate party committees - especially those focused on downballot statewide offices, e.g. DLGA, DAGA, and DASS. Republican committees tend to operate this way, with groups like the Republican Secretaries of State Committee operating as a caucus within the Republican State Legislative Committee. Perhaps relatedly, the RSLC can operate very niche caucuses, such as an agriculture commission caucus, which Democrats lack. Nathaniel Pearlman raised this idea in his interview with Kim Rogers of DASS, at about the 14:43 mark.


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