by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
In a 2005 New York Times editorial, Bill Bradley compared the structure of the Republican and Democratic parties to pyramids. The Republican Party’s pyramid starts with a broad, solid base built of organizations and think tanks that generate funding, ideas, policies and talking points. Conservative commentators and networks that spread the message of the party form the next level.
“At the very top of the pyramid, you’ll find the president,” Bradley wrote. “Because the pyramid is stable, all you have to do is put a different top on it, and it works fine.”
Bradley continued: “To understand how the Democratic Party works, invert the pyramid. Imagine a pyramid balancing precariously on its point, which is the presidential candidate. Democrats who run for president have to build their own pyramids all by themselves. There is no coherent, larger structure that they can rely on.”
In 2004, Democrats suffered from their dependency on the presidential candidate. The Kerry campaign was for a Washington insider run by Washington insiders. This top-down operation gauged its progress on the number of phone calls placed to voters, not on the quality of the relationship the party had with voters. When they pulled out of Missouri within days of the election, the pyramid crumbled, and Republicans gained seats throughout state government. The local party then had to deal with the backlash from voters who had been called and canvassed so many times that they ended up feeling harassed.
Since 2004, Democrats have been working to change this structure and build their party on a solid foundation. At the national level, Howard Dean has been pushing a 50-state strategy, creating a viable party organization in every state. This runs against the traditional beltway strategy of focusing on only those few races that seem easiest to win, but it is the best way to build a strong base that can endure changes in candidates and campaigns.
Taking a cue from the Republicans, the Democrats are reaching beyond the party itself and the “usual suspects” of Democratic activists to build the pyramid. Several new organizations have sprung up in Mid-Missouri that are aligned with the party but are not part of the party.
Democracy for Missouri — www.democracyformo.com — is one good example. A local chapter of the national Democracy for America, DFM recently…