If you have been around campaigns before, you’ve undoubtedly interacted with county chairs or township party chairs.

These elected Democratic Party positions are often overlooked and, unfortunately, underappreciated. Your campaign’s interactions with them could range from minimal requests for local party help, to what feels like overbearing demands for yard signs. And while sometimes the inquiries from these individuals may feel burdensome, you will find these folks to be the most highly motivated and enthusiastic individuals in your area.

Let’s be honest, many campaigns choose to bypass local leaders.

Some campaign consultants will tell you that these leaders should be kept at a distance and only updated when it is absolutely necessary. This makes for an unusual and sometimes difficult working relationship. You see, there is a preconceived notion that local leaders do not understand campaigns and therefore do not understand how to best help your campaign efforts.

Let’s debunk the myths once and for all. Here’s why local leaders are invaluable during election cycles (and the time frame in between).

1 The Democratic True Believers

In most cases, county chair or township party chairs are not in their positions for the “fame” of serving as a high-ranking local Democratic Party official. These individuals are 100% volunteers. They are in the position because they are the authentic “true believers” within the Democratic Party.

They believe to their core what the Democratic Party stands for. They believe in the same values that each of us hold close.

Every day these local leaders wake up with a mission to try to do everything they can to get Democrats elected and help make their communities a better place. They deserve our respect, admiration, and thanks.

Their position is among the most thankless of jobs in the Democratic Party, but they are one of the biggest reasons why there are so many Democrats elected to public offices.

2 Reliable Community Intel

If you are just starting a campaign or launching your efforts in an area of your district, wouldn’t it be nice if you were able to get a realistic “lay of the land”?

It’s pretty simple, actually. The quickest, most accurate way to get this kind of information is through your county chair or township party chair.

Most of these individuals have spent years developing relationships throughout their community. They know exactly where the solid Democratic precincts are, where the hard-core Republican areas are, and where you can make the best impact in swing precincts.

These chairs know who to call among the local trades and labor council(s) to get volunteers for an important day of action. And, they know the union print shops that will print your campaign materials, while also paying their employees a living wage.

3 Institutional and Organizational Intel

County and township Democratic parties are much like any other organization.

Twenty percent of the people do 80% of the work.

If you are working with a newly established campaign, how do you know who makes up that 20%?

Precinct committee persons are, of course, the lifeblood of the Democratic Party. But knowing early on who the workhorses are versus the show horses can make the difference between success and failure.

Some days you will need folks to show up for a parade or get some lawn signs out in an area. You will need to know those precinct committeepersons because they are important for those tasks. But you will also need the true grit of determined precinct committeepersons who know their precinct because they knock on doors and know their neighborhood voters.

A county or township party chair is going to know who exactly the workers in their organization are.

4 Warmest Reception or Coldest Shoulder

County chair or township party chairs are politicians who have likely spent years building relationships in their communities. They are elected officials who have earned their post through hard work, crafty negotiation, and savvy political skills.

Recognizing their position as a peer, or even as a potential mentor, will go a long way to start a great relationship.

Remember, having them as not only a supporter but a champion will help pave the way to your success. That means taking the time to build a relationship with them. Get to know how they got involved in the Democratic Party. Find out some history of the county or township party.

Lean on their experience to help build your campaign.

Good campaigns will spend countless hours in person (when we can again) or on the phone talking to these county or township party chairs. If you’re willing to invest the time to build this relationship, you will have gained the biggest supporter in your area and they’ll be willing to help wherever they can; committing their organization to get you elected.

If you choose not to invest the time and effort into building this relationship, expect a very cold reception from your county or township party chair.

Just because you are a Democrat does not mean that the county or township party chair must give you speaking time at meetings or include your campaign in a day of action.

They don’t have to be helpful with introducing your campaign to members of organized labor.

And they aren’t obligated to activate their organization to help you win in November.

Remember, you can earn rejection just as easily as you earn support.

5 Democratic County Chairs are Endless Resources

While many county or township parties do not have a lot of money to support the financial demands of your campaign, they do have a lot of access to nonmonetary resources.

These resources come in the form of seasoned local campaign professionals to serve as members of your “Kitchen Cabinet”, usable office space at party headquarters, inclusion on county or township party mailers, or sharing of your campaign’s information on social media, email, or other communication methods.

Invaluable Partners in Your Campaign

County chair or township party chairs are invaluable in our politics today.

All candidates (statewide, congressional, countywide, county board, etc.) should reach out to your county or township party chairs.

Work on building that relationship now.

They continue to do everything they can to build our Democratic Party and they want to see you succeed. In your success, they succeed. And, of course, our communities prosper.

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Dan Kovats

Dan Kovats has worked on campaigns for 10 years, starting on local races & working his way up. In 2014 he served as the Downstate Field Director & Deputy Political Director for US Senator Dick Durbin’s campaign. He served as Campaign Manager & Advisor for several candidates including Springfield Alderwoman Kristin DiCenso, District 186 School Board President Scott McFarland, and Rianne Hawkins for City Clerk. In 2012, he was elected Vice Chair of the Sangamon County Democratic Party to oversee all campaign & Get Out The Vote operations within the county.

He is currently the Executive Director of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association (IDCCA). The IDCCA’s mission is to be a Democratic partnership resource for all 102 Democratic County Party Chairs’, to support the political agenda of the Democratic Party, to grow the Party, and to elect Democrats at every level including county, statewide, & national.

Dan lives with his wife Jennifer & two children in Chatham, IL.