Party Chairs have received unwanted attention and criticism at the National, State and County level often in recent years. As everything else has been going wrong with our political system, little attention has been paid to improving Party organization itself. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a former Party Chair who had served with distinction for many years in various capacities. He in-turn gave me the names of several other Chairs who had served in other states. My goal was to identify common strategies in their leadership with the intent of passing on their wisdom. The product of this research has culminated in my Ten Rules of Great Party Chairs. Hopefully, you’ll find this useful in making our Party stronger.
Rule 1. It’s Not About You
Come at your responsibilities with an attitude of service. You must be committed to the greater good of the organization, and your personal ideology and ambitions are irrelevant. Your duty is to stand in the background and support others in shining.
Rule 2. Trust Is Everything
Always tell the truth and say the same thing to everyone. Too many Party Leaders these days believe that lying and manipulation is how you succeed. That line of thinking is always wrong and always destroys the trust you must have if you are to lead effectively.
Rule 3. Lead Where You Are
Lead the part of the organization for which you are responsible. Focus on strategies and people that will win elections in your domain and ignore races at other levels. Successes up the ticket will have a limited coattail effect, but their defeats can have a dramatic negative impact.
Rule 4. Don’t Play Favorites
Encourage and support every candidate equally in the primary. Always be seen as a trusted partner and never as an opponent. Allow only votes to determine the flow of your resources. The most important responsibility of a Party Leader is to keep various Party factions united around a common cause or candidate. You will never be able to accomplish that task without a track record of trust and impartiality.
Rule 5. Be A Good Coach
Candidates are notoriously bad at seeing the truth about their own campaign, but only they are responsible for the outcome. By virtue of your experience, you have a responsibility to advise, encourage, support and defend your candidates. Find ways to coach without offending.
Rule 6. Winning is Entirely About Math
Every candidate for office represents a complex mathematical equation. What percentage of people will support him or her, if he or she takes this or that position? It is a constant game of pluses and minuses. It is your responsibility to advise candidates on mathematical issues, however, it is entirely up to them whether they want to accept that advice. And, never ever say, “I told you so.”
Rule 7. Be a Great Recruiter
Finding the best candidate for each race is imperative to long-term success, but this responsibility can also land you in conflict with Rule 4. Say a candidate steps forward with a serious desire to run for a particularly prestigious office for which you don’t believe he or she is qualified. The first thing you must do is reinforce your commitment to be as supportive and honest with the candidate as possible. At the same, you have a duty to explain to them it’s your job to recruit candidates that you think can win, and that you are committed to that responsibility. You can and must do both. If you remain committed to Rule 2, everything should work out.
Rule 8. No Excuses
You must be a master of organization and fund raising. You know what resources are available, and how to get them. You know about a range of venues, concessions, audio-visual requirements, direct mail, phone banks, social media, who can be counted on and who cannot. And, you know how to put together a crowd. You are the organizer that makes the organization work.
Rule 9. Be a Momma Bear
Protect and defend your organization and your candidates. While it is vital to not take sides in primary contests, it is sometimes important to step-in and advise on appropriate primary campaign behavior. Often the source of difficulty comes from Party or Interest Group Consultants from “out-of-town,” who have no concern for the long-term damage they may cause. While you have little direct control over these situations, you can and should do your best to influence campaigns to stay within appropriate limits.
Rule 10. Failure is Inevitable
Even when you have the perfect candidate and the perfect campaign, you can still lose. There is always something unexpected, and that is what makes this game so damn much fun. In the face of loss, remain gracious, accept responsibility and above all, cherish the democracy that allows you a voice.