9.4 The Structure of Political Parties
The Political parties are generally organized like pyramids having at their base millions of party members and thousands of local party officials; but there are few national party heads at the top. The American Constitution has introduced federalism not only in the government but also in the political parties. Elections and offices are organized on a national-state-local basis and parties are organized in a similar manner. Party organization vitally affects the working of the government.
Party workers are in charge of selecting people who will compete for office, managing and financing campaigns, and even coming forward with policies and positions that appeal to the constituents. A cooperation among all the levels of the government functioning is witnessed. The national party organization may help contestants at the state level or even for the Congress, whereas the local and state organizations contribute toward presidential elections in a major way.
9.4a Local party organization
The party hierarchy expands at the local level, into various district and country committees. Nonpartisan elections may be held with candidates running as independents and not as members of any party. The party selects candidates during Partisan elections held with the help of professional staff. Issues of importance to the voters are taken up leading to significant interaction between party workers, candidates and workers.
Some country chairmen are powerful figures like Mayor Daley
in Cook County. There are a host of other offices such as county
commissioner, sheriff and treasurer. In some localities, the local
favors for their constituents; right from fixing parking tickets,
to organizing clambake, thus making party politics at the local
level a round-the-clock affair. However most local party committees
are small and poorly financed. They are more interested in securing
recognition and favors from office-holders, than in the party’s
policy and program.
9.4b State party organization
The state committees occupy the second level in the party hierarchy. They are manned by committeemen, who are selected by a primary election, state convention or caucus process. The governor, a U.S. senator, or a coalition of strong local leaders generally dominate most state committees. If a party manages to carry the state in a presidential election, the party activists are known as "electors."
Candidates are selected by party members at a state caucus. However in several states, the executive officials such as the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer and attorney general are elected as individuals, from the party’s slate, the voters are free to vote for the candidate of their choice. At the state level, the state chairman is generally the party’s boss with the power to select and control governors, senators and other key officials.
9.4c National party organization
It is the national chairman and the national committee that run the party at the national level, in the four-year period between conventions. The committeemen of both parties are supposed to be elected every four years by their respective national conventions. However, in actual fact, they are chosen by state party conventions, party committees or party primaries.
Generally the national committee assembles when it is called by the chairman. It offers advice and help during the campaign, and meets early in presidential years, to determine the date and place of the national convention. In case there is rivalry for its control, among prominent members in the party, the national committee has to resolve the conflict. However it seldom determines party politics, except to ratify proposals laid before it by the chairman or party members holding public office.
The chairman of the committee usually runs the party organization, along with full-time officials. The chief task of the chairman is to manage the presidential campaign. The presidential candidate and perhaps later the president, runs the party through the chairman who has aptly been described as "image maker, fund raiser, campaign manager and administrator."
The Congressional and Senatorial Campaign Committees help congressmen in their campaigns for re-election. The committees send money to the candidates after they have been nominated and provide them with speakers and campaign material. However the activities of the national committee tend to overshadow the work of the Congressional and Senatorial campaign committees at the time of the presidential election.
9.4d The national convention
There is a meeting of the national convention every four years, in order to select the party’s candidates. The convention also determines party policy through a platform in which a stand is taken on the issues of the day. It also adopts the rules of the party. The national committee authorizes the selection of delegates to the convention. These delegates may be either appointed by state party organization or through the primary process.
Important committees like the Committee on Credentials and the Committee on Permanent Organization, prepare for the work of the convention. The committee on platform and resolutions explain the planks of its platform, stating what it stands for and what it condemns without giving offense to any section or interest, controlling voting strength.