How do the major parties pick their chairmen?

I saw Tim Kaine and Mike Steele on something and was surprised that such, umm, what’s the word… inexperienced(?) men are the chairmen of the two largest parties. Steele I have seen a few times before, rebutting some Democratic speech or other, but Kaine was a surprise and I’m from Virginia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging the abilities of either man, just their name recognition.

How do the parties go about picking a chairman? Do they purposely not select one of the many, many congresspersons, sitting and former, or even former presidents, who would seem to me to have more political clout?

Also, wouldn’t “Steele and Kaine” make a great name for an action/adventure TV show?

American political party chairmen aren’t really supposed to stand out in a crowd. The purpose of the parties is to put their guys into public office, so you don’t want a glorified club president taking the spotlight away from the candidates.

The guys who get the job are generally people have proven track records working for the national committees, either directly or for political consultants, and usually not former politicians.

Their primary job is to raise funds. Fundraisers are notoriously uncharismatic.

The only party chair in recent years who would have been semi-recognizable to the public was Howard Dean, who got the job because of his groundbreaking use of new media. . . to raise funds.

For the party in power, the chairman is chosen by the president. I’m not sure if this is written into any bylaws, but in practice, that’s how it works. When the party is out of power, there’s an electoral process where prominent party members get to vote.

Tim Kaine isn’t exactly a nobody, he was the governor of Virginia. He was one of Barack Obama first major supporters and it sounds like he was Obama’s second choice for vice president. His schedule was open, so his support for Obama was rewarded. That’s pretty much how it works. It does stand to reason that someone who thinks he has a shot at being elected to a more prominent job is not going to want to be party chair, though. The point of the job is to raise money for other people, not improve your own standing. And someone who has retired from Congress might want to spend his time getting paid for speaking engagements instead.


IIRC, its the chairman and VP’s of all the State Commitees that pick the National Chairman for the DNC. The RNC has some complicated formula where State Commitees from states that vote for the GOP Republican Candidate for Prez in the previous election get more votes. As you say, they pretty much all follow the Presidents recomendation when he’s a member of their party, but it can be fairly contentious when the party isn’t in the White House.

It appears to be a more high profile gig when your party is out of power (which make sense), Steele seems to be in the news a fair amount and Dean was fairly high-profile when Bush was Prez, but I don’t think I’ve heard anyone breath the name Tim Kaine since he was selected and I don’t even remember who was the GOP Chair during the latter part of Bush’s Presidency.

There were a lot of them, but the only ones I remembered offhand were Ken Mehlman and Ed Gillespie. The chair is sort of the head of the party, but for the party in power that role definitely belongs to the prez, so they get involved in lower-profile stuff like raising money and choosing candidates.

Steele wins contentious RNC race

Fox has the blow by blow:
Republicans Pick Steele as Next Party Chairman

The national committees choose their chair by a vote of the committees. A few people are nominated, and there is politicking and a vote.

I do not know how RNC members are elected, but DNC members in California by the Executive Board of the State Central Committee, which consists of about 400 members. There are campaigns for these offices too. The California Executive Board of the State Central Committee are voted into office from County Central Committees and Assembly District Committes.

County Central Committees are elected among registered Democrats (Republicans have procedures too, but I am not familiar with them, though they are similar) in each county on the county ballots during primary and general election. Central Committees exist per the California Elections Code. I am not sure about the Assembly District Committees.

The purpose of the Central Committees and Assembly District Committees is to provide a body for the regular activists to meet, organize, register voters, get out the vote and sometimes recruit candidates.

I have served on the Executive Board for California, State Central Committee, County Central Committee and Assembly District.