The Structure of Political Parties

The major political parties are organized at the local (county), state, and national levels. Party leaders and activists are involved in choosing people to run for office, managing and financing campaigns, and developing positions and policies that attract party members. The national party organizations play key roles in presidential elections.

Local party organization:
Political parties operate at the local level in many municipal and county elections. Other cities choose officials through nonpartisan elections.

From the late 19th century through most of the 20th century, political machines flourished in several large cities. The political bosses, the mayors, and the party leaders used their control of certain jobs to reward party loyalty and provide a broad range of social services. Reforms in the civil service and the growth of primary elections gradually brought an end to machine politics.

State party organization:
Political parties prepare for statewide elections. Party activists are named as electors in the Electoral College if their party wins the state in a presidential election. Candidates for state office may be chosen through a primary election, state convention, or caucus process. At a state caucus, party members select their candidates. In many states, the executive officials — governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, and attorney general — are elected as individuals. Although the party's slate (its candidates for office) is listed on the ballot, voters can vote for any candidate they want. In some states, voters may elect a Democratic governor and a Republican lieutenant governor or vice versa.

National party organization:
At the national level, political parties run candidates for Congress and the presidency. Each party has its own national committee made up of party leaders, elected officials, and the chairs of the state party organizations. The chair of the national committee is chosen by the party's candidate for president. The Democratic and Republican national committees do not run the campaigns for their respective presidential candidates. They do play a supporting role to the campaign organizations of the candidates themselves. In both the Senate and the House, each party has its own congressional campaign committee, which raises money for congressional elections.

The national convention:
The national committee loosely runs the party between national conventions. A party's choices for president and vice president are nominated at the national convention. The delegates to the convention are already committed to vote for particular candidates based on the results of the state primary or caucus voting. Most delegates are selected through primaries and caucuses. A party's nominee is often determined months before the convention, which makes the choice official. The party announces its platform at the national convention. The platform explains how the party stands on the issues facing the country.

Source: The Structure of Political Parties
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