Nuts & Bolts—Inside a Democratic campaign: What does a neutral party look like?

Nuts & Bolts—Inside a Democratic campaign: What does a neutral party look like?

Welcome back to the weekly Nuts & Bolts Guide to small campaigns. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns, or explain issues that impact our party.

One of the questions that will come up frequently going into 2022 will regard party neutrality. Republicans in control of state legislatures will work to change the lines in districts, and in several cases they will put Democratic state legislators in the same district, pitting elected officials against each other. In other cases, open districts may be created and will result in an open seat, a situation where more than one Democratic candidate is likely to run. The Democratic Party proposes neutrality. What, exactly, is party neutrality, and how do we achieve it?

What party neutrality isn’t

One of the easiest ways to determine if you are achieving something is to decide what it means. In order to look at neutrality, I think we have to establish what neutrality doesn’t mean. Party neutrality isn’t about silencing elected officials—the party has no ability to do that, and First Amendment rights far outweigh any party rules we could try to establish. If the party told elected officials they couldn’t endorse someone, they would laugh at the party and remind us that they were elected with more than Democratic votes: They also received votes of unaffiliated people and even some Republicans in their districts, in many cases. Neutrality also isn’t about the party making sure campaigns have equal access to funds. As a reminder, there are actually laws in every state that govern campaign finance. Party neutrality also is not about the party telling organizations to stay out of the endorsement process. The party does not have that power, either.

So what is party neutrality?

The party does have means by which to stay neutral. State organizations and party leadership should avoid making specific endorsements in a primary. That is certainly one of the key elements of party neutrality.

Some of the elements of party neutrality are things we just don’t think about but are important behind the scenes. The party has access to several tools. They offer candidates the ability to use fundraising tools, to access party database systems, and to have equal access to meetings and events.

If a district, county, or state party-managed event is held, primary candidates should be welcome to attend and make their case to the people who are most likely to canvass and work hard for their campaign.

The party can be glue, but …

Think of the Democratic Party as glue. The party offers tools that can help make sure your campaign is on an even footing with any other candidate. The party powers lie in helping to connect you to those tools. If the party is neutral, everyone has access to the same tools, and party leadership—from a state party chair on down—stay out of the endorsement process.

While the party itself is glue, our membership is not. As a candidate, you are free and encouraged to go get endorsements. Endorsements can come from prominent current elected officials or former officials. You can seek endorsements from outside organizations or make your case to primary opponents that they should consider dropping out of the race to strengthen the Democratic cause in the fall. 

The party is also not affiliated with organizations—by that I mean DGA, DCCC, DSCC, and others. Their chief goal will be incumbent protection. These organizations are not the party. They do not and cannot be dictated to by any party structure in any state. When you talk about the party staying neutral, it is important to remember what the party is, exactly.

Prepare for 2022

Republicans will look for every possible way to disenfranchise Democratic voters and to reduce Democratic standing in state houses by tearing districts apart and shoving Democratic electeds together. They will do so by making districts more Republican or by putting a current sitting elected Democratic official just on the outside of the district they currently represent. 

We are going to have a lot of primaries and a lot of unknowns in 2022 because of the results of the census and redistricting. Understanding what lies ahead can make sure we don’t get into the blame game over what can be done in providing your candidate an opportunity to succeed.

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