How to Lead the Iowa Democratic Party

Claire Celsi continues Bleeding Heartland’s series of guest posts on priorities for Iowa Democrats after a tough election. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I’m writing this post because I have a unique perspective. I’m a long-time activist, have been an employee of the the Iowa Democratic Party, have been an employee of a Presidential caucus campaign, managed a congressional campaign and was a recent candidate for the State House. I’ve read a lot of the blog posts and articles from all the supporters from various perspectives – there are very good observations being made.

As a member of “Generation X” I’ve been exposed to the old ways of the Party, all the older activists, all the traditional ways to reach out to Iowans. I’ve also seen and experienced new technology, new organizing methods, and met new people looking for their place in the Party. In my opinion, there is room for both traditional and new outreach methods in our Party. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

First things first: This is a difficult job with no shortage of critics. Thank you, Dr. Andy McGuire, for leading our State Party and for giving your time, treasure and energy. We are deeply grateful.

Here are my priorities for the State Party Chair position, in order of importance. I look forward to hearing your comments on the Bleeding Heartland Facebook page. Or, feel free to call me at 515-554-6754 or email me at

1. Time to spend on the role – the person selected must make it a full-time job: The State Party Chair should be a full-time ambassador, fundraiser, cheerleader and manager. In that spirit, I believe the Chair position should include a stipend.

2. Fundraising ability and willingness to make the calls: This is the most important job of the Chair. The Chair should be willing to ask for money from wealthy individuals – but also be able to cultivate smaller donations from the grassroots. It will be very difficult for the Iowa Democratic Party to grow and thrive without large donations. The ultimate job of the Chair is to help elect Democrats, who can pass campaign finance reform legislation. Until then, we’re already at a disadvantage and must play by the current rules in order to compete.

3. Data management: We need to have a data manager in charge of data integrity at the State Party level who works directly with the Secretary of State, candidates, campaigns, county parties and county election officials to streamline and ensure the accuracy of our data. The Chair should understand and insist that we utilize the data to our full advantage. This election cycle, Trump’s campaign correctly calculated what it would take to win. The Democratic Party not only had the wrong strategy, but we obviously did not analyze our data properly. In addition, we should have a year-round data quality project in which we have volunteers reporting and updating changes to our database, not just during the six months before the election. Caucus data should also be readily available to any interested party within two weeks of the caucus date. It took me until July to get my district’s caucus data and when I received it, it was missing a lot of information. Another realization: Almost all the data collected during the last week of the campaign will never be entered because staff gets let go and goes on with their lives the day after the election. We should maintain a crew who’s job it is to make sure that all of that data gets entered. Democrats who are new to the party should be welcomed with open arms. Do we send a welcome letter to newly registered Democrats? No. But we should!

4. Management ability – inspire and lead young staff members and be present in the office regularly: The State Party Chair should inspire people to higher standards, ideals, behavior and outcomes. Now more than ever, each individual needs to be held accountable for their work and their results. We should also invest in a full time office manager who keeps the place clean and tidy, answers the phone and sits at the front desk to greet visitors. It is unacceptable to walk into our State Party and be greeted with an absolute mess and no one to greet people. It should not be the job of people sitting nearby working to get up and do this vital task. (side note: of course, everyone should pitch in and answer the phones during lunches, breaks, etc.)

5. Communications background: Our Chair must have an understanding of how the media cycle is driven and always be ready to proactively communicate with the media, bloggers and other people who drive the conversation in Iowa. We should be LEADING the news cycle – not constantly reacting.

6. Messaging: In order to be successful in the next election cycle and all subsequent elections, our Party must have a compelling message. We have the right position on many issues, but must change how we communicate those messages. Then, we must communicate those messages to all Iowans, not just Party activists.

7. Willingness to restore a professional, non-partisan atmosphere among the office staff and encourage SCC members to be discreet in their interactions during primaries. This used to be an unshakable standard and we need to recreate that ethos with staff. The Chair and the Executive Director should make sure that this standard is being followed and enforced.

8. Implement a stronger digital presence: The Iowa Democratic Party should have a robust website and social media channels that are providing messaging, images and information to activists. This should be happening year round, not just the week before a big event. For example, I receive news releases from the Party on a regular basis. But they are not in a sharable format and have no call to action. I’d much rather get information on how I can participate or help – and then be able to share that information with people using social media.

9. Training for candidates and campaigns: The Iowa Democratic Party needs to invest in candidate training with a focus on useful skills – like fundraising, canvassing and data management. It sometimes feels like only party insiders run for office. If we had a training program, we could identify and encourage young leaders to run. In my opinion, we should also stop charging candidates so much to use the VAN (database). Candidates are personally talking to thousands of voters and adding fresh information to the database. Why would we penalize them? They are doing us a huge favor by running for office.

10. Oversee new branding and advertising campaign: I don’t think the Democratic brand is broken, but we need to reintroduce ourselves to a new generation. My suggestion is a advertising campaign called “You Might be a Democrat if…” and use video and social media to push it out.

11. Oversee a capital campaign to renovate Party headquarters or move into a more suitable space: Our State Party building is too old and crowded to be useful. It’s not set up to accommodate news conferences, SCC meetings, trainings or anything else. The bathrooms are antiquated. We need to improve the atmosphere which will help make it more professional.

I’m very optimistic about the future and I’m thrilled that we have so many new activists ready to participate in the process of preparing our Party for future elections.

Claire Celsi is a Communications Consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa. She is a small business owner, community volunteer, Mom and soon-to-be Grandma. She recently ran as a challenger in House District 42.

About the Author(s)

Claire Celsi

  • Our Party Has Lost Its Soul

    What you’re talking about is pure window dressing. The Democratic Party has lost its soul, and every one of you reading this knows it. Can any of you reading this tell me with a straight face that we are still the party of FDR? Democrats need to spend more time going into union halls and farm communities and less time wooing big donors.

    “Oversee new branding and advertising campaign: I don’t think the Democratic brand is broken, but we need to reintroduce ourselves to a new generation. My suggestion is a advertising campaign called “You Might be a Democrat if…” and use video and social media to push it out.”

    Yes, the Democratic brand is totally broken. If you don’t believe me, then why has the Republican Party taken over so many statehouses, governorships, and now, the presidency? You cannot – I repeat – you cannot say that you are the party of the people and not have the courage to stand up to Wall Street. People just won’t buy it. And they aren’t buying it, when you take a look at the shellacking our party got a couple of weeks ago.