These 25 operatives offer a glimpse into the future of the campaign industry.
Campaigns & Elections has a long tradition of recognizing the best and the brightest in the political industry. It’s a tradition that is anchored by our annual Rising Star award.
Since 1988, C&E has honored up-and-coming campaign pros with Rising Stars and over the years recipients have reached the heights of the campaign business. David Axelrod, James Carville, Alex Castellanos, Ben Ginsberg, Hal Malchow and Mark Mellman are among the inaugural class of Rising Stars crowned in 1988. C&E Rising Stars have served in senior positions on the presidential campaigns of every major party nominee since 1992.
This year we’re proud to present 25 new Rising Stars. The class of 2013 will be recognized on Monday June 17 at C&E's annual Art of Political Campaigning Conference in Washington, D.C.
Michael Britt started his career on Wall Street, but it wasn’t long before the campaign world hooked him. His first political gig: a race for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in Virginia, where he was the candidate’s driver. Britt also oversaw grassroots efforts and offered fundraising advice. The next year, Britt had already made his way to the National Republican Congressional Committee. As a field finance representative for the 2004 cycle, Britt coordinated fundraising events for 13 top-tier congressional races and helped campaigns draw up fundraising plans.
“I never even got an apartment when I was in D.C.,” says Britt. “I just lived out of my suitcase.”
After a stint in the office of Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, Britt ran the successful 2006 reelection effort of Rep. Dave Reichert in Washington State—one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s top targets that year. In a rough cycle for Republicans, Reichert was one of the few vulnerable members of the GOP to survive. In addition to work on Capitol Hill, Britt’s resume includes a year in the White House. During the Bush administration, he worked under Karl Rove as an associate director in the White House Office of Political Affairs. In the run-up to the 2008 cycle, Britt handled a hodgepodge of primary states as regional political director for Mitt Romney’s first presidential campaign, including New Hampshire, Virginia, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
After Romney bowed out of the race, Britt ended up in Colorado where he faced the tall task of helping rebuild a struggling state Republican Party. “Dick Wadhams actually didn’t tell me how much debt the party had until I arrived,” recalls Britt.
As the Colorado GOP’s executive director, Britt was faced with retiring some $600,000 in past state party debt. By the end of his tenure, the state party had $500,000 cash on hand and had successfully retired its debt. He also re-built the party’s ground game.
Four years later, he did much the same for Nevada’s GOP. According to American Crossroads CEO Steven Law, the turnout machine Britt helped create in Nevada “may have saved Sen. Dean Heller’s reelection while Mitt Romney crashed and burned.”
Those who have worked closely with Britt say he’s both politically smart and street smart—an operative who can solve problems while keeping his cool. As vice president of community and government affairs at Wynn Resorts, Britt now has the ear of Steve Wynn, a major financial player in national politics.
“I still get the campaign itch once in a while, but there’s something to be said for taking a step back from being super partisan,” says Britt. “But there’s never a dull day doing what I do now.”
If not for David Foster Wallace, Amelia Chassé might have never found herself on the campaign trail. It was his account of John McCain’s 2000 presidential primary campaign in South Carolina, published in Rolling Stone, which sold her on the campaign life.
“I had always been interested in public service, but I really never thought of campaigns as a career option,” says Chassé. “But after reading it, I realized that it was the sort of environment that really appealed to me.”
Eight years later, she was working on McCain’s second presidential effort as a senior at George Washington University. Chassé started work as an unpaid intern for the campaign shortly after the media and the rest of the political world pronounced it dead. The good news was that it meant lots of opportunity to learn and grow. She started as a field staff assistant, but by the end of the campaign Chassé was working for the campaign’s treasury division and as the budget manager for the 2008 Republican National Convention. “From then on, I knew I could never do anything else,” she says. “I knew I’d make a career in campaigns.”
Those who have worked alongside Chassé describe her as savvy and relentless—she “never gets outworked,” according to longtime McCain adviser Brian Jones. As vice president at Hynes Communications, Chassé manages the firm’s Washington, D.C. office and devises online strategy for many of the firm’s top clients, including American Crossroads. At the start of the 2012 cycle, Chassé helped Crossroads cultivate its relationship with online conservatives. Chassé also counts herself among the cadre of young GOP consultants pushing her party to more fully embrace the digital age.
For her, the key to GOP success moving forward is to combine the old school and the new.
“I have a ton of reverence for old style, boots-on-the-ground campaigning,” says Chassé. “Even though digital is essential for campaigns today, there’s no one Vine video or meme that’s going to win a race.”
Sandwiched between campaign stints on Zack Condry’s resume is a position with a British chef. But it wasn’t that Condry was trying out for a kitchen career. Back in spring 2010 the Republican campaign operative found himself advising “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” a nutrition campaign based on the ABC series that followed the British chef’s attempt to get healthy meals in front of American school kids. It was a colorful break from the campaign trail he’s been on since college.
Back at the University of Tennessee, Condry thought he was a pretty big deal (by his own admission) when he signed up for the College Republicans club. At the time, Condry was already volunteering in Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist’s district office in his hometown of Knoxville. The other members of the club were unimpressed. “They couldn’t have cared less,” he says.
But after his work with the club on campus, the state GOP reached out to him before the 2004 cycle to assist with then-President George W. Bush’s reelection bid. “I could’ve slept the entire year of 2004 and Bush still would’ve won Tennessee by a landslide,” Condry admits. “[But] you’re this young kid in politics and the state party calls you up; there’s no other answer than yes.”
That’s when politics became a career option for Condry. In 2009, Condry coordinated grassroots operations for 91 candidates as GOPAC’s political director. Now, as a strategist at The Prosper Group, Condry has a resume more worthy of being a big deal. The firm raised more than $40 million for clients in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. His next task comes on one of this year’s marquee races: Condry’s firm is working to help reelect New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie in one of the bluest states in the country.
But Condry still fondly recalls the smaller races he worked starting out his career, including working on a county clerk’s race in Fairfax County, Va.
“It was just me and the candidate,” he says. “And my guy won by about 1,700 votes.”
Julie Dorshkind scrambled to find a payphone after she got off the plane in Burlington, Vermont. She wanted to let her family know she had arrived on the other side of the country. Back then, the city had only a pair of cell service providers and, to Dorshkind’s surprise, her Bay Area phone wouldn’t work. Later, she picked up a Vermont cell number, which she has used ever since.
“Every month or two, someone will comment on the 802 area code and ask if I’m from there,” she says. In fact, Dorshkind’s a Californian who grew up outside of San Francisco. But in 2003, after working on a proposition campaign in the Golden State, she left the West Coast to work for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. The former governor gained momentum soon after Dorshkind’s arrival. “It was a whirlwind,” she recalls.
During the campaign, Dorshkind discovered she was interested in what motivated voter behavior. “I found myself reading a lot of polls. It was something I enjoyed doing and naturally took to,” she says.
Two years after Dean’s run, she found herself at her dream job with Benenson Strategy Group in Washington. Over the past seven years, she’s developed a reputation as a pollster who gets it right. Not plus or minus right: Bang on. In Hawaii in 2012, Benenson’s client, then-Rep. Mazie Hirono was locked in a tight Democratic Senate primary with former Rep. Ed Case. Polling in the state is notoriously difficult because it’s hard to ascertain voters’ ages. But by cross-referencing data, Dorshkind was able to give Hirono the numbers she needed.
“In the primary, we called it exactly dead on,” she says.
Dorshkind’s polling and advice helped Hirono go on to defeat former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle in the general. Dorshkind has also polled internationally for foreign governments on five continents, as well as for candidates for the top elected office in eight countries. “With international polling, I feel I can make a real difference improving the lives of people who are struggling,” she says.
After helping Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos win election in 2010, she has continued to explore policy and messaging on issues ranging from the economy to negotiations with the terrorist group, the FARC, to end a half century long civil conflict.
From former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s special election win in 2009 to the Wisconsin recall elections in 2011-2012, Tom Dickens has been right in the middle of some of the most high-profile political battles of the past two cycles.
A Maine native, Dickens started out as an intern on Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. Before the summer was over, Dickens ended up as a Victory field director for the Maine GOP. “I was in there enough that I think they felt like they had to pay me,” says Dickens.
From that point on, field operations felt like a calling for Dickens who ended up as a regional field director on Scott Brown’s special election campaign before heading to Wisconsin where he ran the voter turnout operation for two rounds of recall elections. In 2011, working to beat back recall attempts of Republican state legislators served as a warm up of sorts for the main recall event the following year—the attempt to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
“We had been through so many recalls at that point,” says Dickens. “By the time we got to the Walker recall, we were pretty recall-savvy.”
After Wisconsin, Dickens headed to Florida where he ran the RNC’s Victory turnout program in the presidential battleground. Dickens has quickly earned a reputation as someone who can manage large numbers of volunteers and staff all while keeping egos in check and getting the most out of those on the ground.
Now he’s in New Jersey serving as political director for Gov. Chris Christie, the man many Republicans think is poised to jump into the race for president in 2016.
The result of all the grassroots work, says Dickens: “I sort of fell in love with turnout. Everything you do comes down to two or four points, and that’s what really draws you to it.”
A feeling of hopelessness came over Adriel Hampton as he scoured the voter file of California’s 10th. Turnout in the Bay Area congressional district typically ranges between 200,000 - 300,000 voters. To Hampton, who was making his first run for public office in 2009, it was an “insurmountable number of people.”
He’d launched the campaign after rallying community opposition to a development project near his home in Walnut Creek.
“I did not have the capacity to go from knocking on some neighbors’ doors and stopping a development project in the park to reaching hundreds of thousands of voters for a congressional campaign,” he recalls.
Sure, he saved a neighbor’s home from the wrecking ball and rallied the public against a redevelopment project. But that success, combined with his years as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and a licensed private investigator, wasn’t enough to propel him to D.C.
“As a reporter I had covered a lot of races and had been somewhat familiar with what people do when they’re on the campaign trail,” he says. “It’s a lot harder than it looks.”
Hampton didn’t win the nomination, but he may have learned more from the failure than he would have from success. “It shaped my feelings about providing nonpartisan infrastructure,” he says.
Moreover, his campaign connected him with Jim Gilliam, then a documentary filmmaker and online activist. Gilliam was working on open government software and was excited by some of the tactics Hampton had employed in the campaign. After the campaign ended, Hampton and Gilliam reconnected at a conference in Los Angeles in 2010, cementing their bond over animated discussions of “Battlestar Galactica.”
When Gilliam began staffing up NationBuilder, he hired Hampton as employee number three at the company. Hampton has been with the firm for more than two years, but remains a licensed private investigator, not that he does much sleuthing these days.
“The closest I get is wearing a fedora from time to time,” he says.
Presidential campaigns in most parts of Latin America tend to be pretty rough and tumble, and Luis David Duque has been right at the center of many of them over the past few years. A deputy strategist at J.J. Rendón & Associates, Duque works alongside Rendón—one of the best known consulting names in Latin America.
It means plenty of opportunity to work on the region’s premier political campaigns. In 2010, Duque played a key role in implementing the strategy that took Juan Manuel Santos to victory in Colombia’s presidential election.
After making it through the country’s first round of presidential voting that year, Santos faced a runoff with Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus. Santos went on to win in a landslide. In the years prior to Santos’ run for president, Duque helped lay the groundwork for his party—the Social Party of National Unity. Created in 2005, the party went on to capture the majority in Colombia’s legislative body, and later the presidency.
At Rendón’s firm, Duque has worked in more than nine countries throughout the region for candidates at the presidential, regional and legislative levels. He’s also served in an advisory role for governments in Latin America.
The hallmarks of Duque’s work, according to Rendón, are his creativity and commitment to “high ethical and moral values.
Chris Hayler never thought he’d celebrate five years at the same job. Between 2006 and 2008 he was on the trail, first for former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and later, when Bayh’s presidential campaign never materialized, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.
After an unsuccessful primary season, both were also ranked to be Barack Obama’s vice presidential pick.
“I felt like I lost four times in 2008,” Hayler says with a laugh. It made him think: “It’s time for something a little more stable.”
Hayler, a Northern California native, met Marty Stone, founder of Stones’ Phones, when he contracted it to help Christine Gregoire in her 2004 Washington state gubernatorial run, which included a recount that stretched into June 2005. It was a low-point in his campaign career, Hayler recalls, if only because the race dragged so far beyond Election Day. Hayler didn’t have much time between the end of that marathon campaign and the start of the two year presidential cycle.
After 2008, Hayler was mulling his future and realized, “I just wanted to go work with Marty.”
Hayler’s time in the field wasn’t wasted. He uses the experience he gathered to tell campaigns exactly how they could benefit from his firm’s staple technology.
“I will swear to anyone who listens, one of the reasons why John Kerry won the Iowa caucuses in 2004 is because we played phones well,” he says, recalling his time on the former senator’s presidential bid. “Some people underestimate or forget the power of phones, but when you think creatively about how you want to solve the problem there are a lot of things you can do with phones besides just an auto call.”
Hayler was also lucky enough to meet his wife during the 2008 cycle. Elisabeth Hire was also on the Clinton campaign. The two spent almost six months chatting about scheduling over the phone before they met in person. They tied the knot in Ohio in June 2012.
The couple recently left Washington and they’re now back in the Buckeye State settling into Columbus where Hayler plans to open a Midwest office for Stones’ Phones later this summer.
Watching television helped jumpstart Jim Hobart’s career. The pollster was living in Washington, D.C. back in 2009 and kept seeing campaign ads from the Virginia governor’s race. During the day he was helping Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s campaign, but his nightly viewing habits helped him get a fuller picture of the race.
“Seeing the ads on TV, [it] felt like it had more of a direct impact on me,” he says. “It was the first big race I worked on that we had won.”
Hobart, who graduated from Wake Forest University, wasn’t the kind of guy his classmates thought would end up in politics. He was a history major and not very active in any political organizations on campus. His first job out of college in Atlanta wasn’t political, and Hobart soon knew it wasn’t the best ft for him.
So in 2007, he quit and moved across the state to Augusta to work for Jim Whitehead, who was running for the late Charlie Norwood’s vacated House seat following his death. Despite Whitehead losing in the runoff to now Rep. Paul Broun, Hobart was hooked on campaigns.
“I really enjoyed my experience working on [the campaign] and as a result moved up to D.C. and ended up getting an entry level job at Public Opinion Strategies,” he says.
Starting as a research assistant in 2007, Hobart has since worked his way up the firm’s hierarchy. He was named a vice president at the firm in January.
“I work closely with [POS cofounder] Glen Bolger,” he says. “It’s a focus on the analysis of the work we do for our current clients and also pitching and acquiring new clients for the firm.”
When the going gets tough in a campaign, it’s often the manager and the pollster whose seats are the hottest. David Kanevsky has sat in both, and it’s something that serves his clients well.
“Having run campaigns before is an advantage because it’s very easy for me to go and talk to the mail guy or the folks doing phones,” says Kanevsky. “I’ve been in those shoes and I know their concerns so the communication is easier.”
Kanevsky’s parents were Russian immigrants and he gained an appreciation for the American system early in life. It was 1988 when his parents were first able to vote in a U.S. election.
“They came from the Soviet Union, so you can imagine what a big deal it was for them to be able to really cast a vote for the first time,” says Kanevsky. “I remember how important that was to them.”
Along with years of survey research experience—first at Public Opinion Strategies and now as research director at American Viewpoint—Kanevsky has managed races at both the local and federal level, including New Hampshire Rep. Charlie Bass’s race in 2010.
Alongside American Viewpoint partners Linda DiVall and Randall Gutermuth, Kanevsky helps steer research efforts for just about every one of the polling firm’s clients. And his survey work runs the gamut from contested congressional races to independent expenditure efforts and work on behalf of Super PACs. As a part of Sen. John McCain’s polling team in 2008, Gutermuth says Kanevsky helped ensure pollsters kept the methodology consistent so the data properly took into account the surge of young and minority voters Barack Obama’s campaign had brought about.
After the McCain effort, Kanevsky headed to Iraq to poll on behalf of the U.S. military. He was based out of Camp Victory in Baghdad; where he helped military leaders better understand Iraqi public opinion. Kanevsky thinks his campaign managerial days are likely over; he intends to keep his focus on survey research as the polling industry works to adjust to cellphones and the world of social media.
“It’s an important moment for polling right now,” he says. “When you think about it, not much changed between the 1970s and the early 2000s. But all of a sudden everything is changing. Figuring out how to get the data right is always the fun part for me.”
Lynn Krogh grew up in Troy, N.Y. where she remembers her father running for a city council seat. “I helped get my friends involved any way I could,” she says. “We’d drive around and put lawn signs up.”
Even though she wasn’t old enough to even vote at the time, Krogh was immediately drawn to the democratic process, which eventually led to a career in politics. Now a partner at The Casale Group, Krogh is working tirelessly to elect Republicans in contests ranging from Rockland County executive to the New York City mayoral race—no easy task in true blue New York.
After helping reelect Gov. George Pataki (R) in 2002, she took a job in the administration’s press office where she eventually worked her way up to deputy press secretary. During the Pataki Administration, Krogh worked extensively on Lower Manhattan redevelopment plans.
From the outside, the process looked like “a giant bureaucratic mess,” admits Krogh, but she still regards it as one of the highlights of her career now that the Freedom Tower is nearing completion.
“Being down at the site three to four times a week and having a positive effect on the outcome of such an important project was a major highlight,” she says.
Krogh is a self-described “political architect” at her firm. She focuses on grassroots-centered campaigns. During the 2012 cycle, Krogh helped steer the Senate campaign of Wendy Long, who managed more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-way Republican primary.
“Not a lot of people get to do what they love,” she says. “The fact that I get to do what I love and get paid for it is incredible. It’s American.”
Bergen Kenny wanted to do something special for one of her boss’s New Hampshire constituents. It was spring 2007 and a young woman had contacted then-Rep. Paul Hodes’ office asking for the Democratic congressman’s help in bringing a dog back from Iraq. The woman’s fiancé, a soldier who was killed in action, had adopted the puppy during his tour and sent her photos.
“His fiancé called and said, ‘I don’t know if you can help me, but I want that dog,’” Bergen says. “We were like, ‘oh, my God. How are we going to find this dog?’ But we did.” The puppy, named Hero, was delivered to New Hampshire in time for Memorial Day, and Kenny made sure it was national news all weekend. “That was just one of those things where I felt part of something larger,” she says.
Kenny’s career has spanned both coasts and included a long stint in the Midwest. The California native worked on Dick Gephardt’s presidential run in 2003 and the Iowa Democrats’ state Senate campaigns. For that effort, which she calls “the best training for how to function in politics” and run campaigns—she was based in Dubuque, a city she remembers fondly, if only for The Busted Lift, which Kenny calls “the best bar in America.”
After several years of running campaigns and honing her messaging skills in consulting shops, Kenny found herself at home on Capitol Hill. She worked for Hodes and later served as Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin’s press secretary.
During a congressional baseball game in 2007, she met Tim Woodbury, who went on to work as an attorney in Sen. Tom Udall’s office. They started dating and in 2011, the couple decided to relocate to San Francisco so Kenny could take a job as senior strategist at Storefront Political Media. After the move, Woodbury proposed during a walk in a redwood forest. The couple married this past spring.
Working at Storefront, she says, lets her use “everything I learned how to do from mail to TV to earned media. Storefront is an exciting shop—we’re taking the best practices from Silicon Valley and applying them to win political campaigns.”
Born in Cameroon, Henri Makembe came to the U.S. when he was 12. At the time, he had never even touched a computer. Now, he’s at the intersection of politics, advocacy and technology as a partner at Beekeeper Group, one of D.C.’s premier public affairs shops.
After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in criminal justice, Makembe landed at Doceus, Inc., a D.C.-based web development company. While it didn’t quite satisfy his desire to work in politics, “coming out of college with a lot of loans, you’re thinking about taking the first job you get,”
Makembe recalls. What he did have was the technology chops, and that helped Makembe transition to a web development job at the National Association of Homebuilders and, by the 2008 election cycle, to a gig as web strategist at DCI Group. By then, the political world had fully awakened to the power of the Internet and technology.
“There were people who understood the politics very well, and there were people who understood the technology really well,” Makembe says. “I saw myself as someone who could bridge that gap a bit.”
Makembe consulted on a number of local races in D.C. and Maryland, helping down-ballot candidates integrate digital into their campaigns. By the fall of 2009, Makembe was at Blue State Digital, the hottest online firm on the Democratic side of the aisle following President Obama’s 2008 campaign. By the age of 28, he was named partner at Beekeeper Group where he helps steer the digital efforts of political clients, as well as nonprofits and advocacy groups.
Among Makembe’s international projects—the creation of an election monitoring program in Benin, Africa during the country’s 2011 presidential election. The program made use of SMS in an effort to increase transparency and counteract fraud.
“Campaigns used to focus on the latest and greatest technology, but we’ve tried to impart that it’s more about the people,” says Makembe. “Get the right people, not just the right technology.”
The daughter of a Mexican politician, Giselle Perezblas never knew a life without politics. From the time she was a child, Perezblas recalls being around high-profile campaigns and well-known political figures—it was the perfect training for a career as a media and communications strategist.
“When I was young I saw the positive impact politics and campaigns could have on people’s lives,” Perezblas says. It’s a large part of the reason she decided to make politics a living. In 2005, Perezblas founded her own media and communications firm, drawing on her experience at Televisa, one of the largest media companies in Latin America.
“There’s not enough creativity in political communication,” says Perezblas. “I like to focus on emotion and find a way to really communicate our ideas. Too many politicians sacrifice credibility because they choose electoral invincibility instead.”
This past year, Perezblas ran communications for a slate of seven local campaigns, along with the presidential effort, in the Mexican state of Durango. Since launching her own firm, she has won more than 30 races locally and regionally in Mexico. Along with her communications work, Perezblas has helped local and regional party organizations build campaign operations from the ground up in more than five states. In 2009, Perezblas was tasked with creating a communications strategy for the local government of Oaxaca in an effort to heal tensions after a period of social conflict in the area.
In addition to her candidate work, Perezblas advises local governments in both communications and crisis management. Perezblas has worked extensively in the aftermath of natural disasters in her home country, and she works for a number of social nonprofits—work she does pro bono.
“Working on the electoral campaigns allows me to do the nonprofit work for free,” she says. “I have some amazing projects, but I work on what’s important to me. I don’t really see them as clients. I see them more as friends with a political project in common. And if I can’t do some good, I don’t take the job.”
A self-described “former computer geek,” Ed Niles jumped into politics after he found working in the private sector a bore.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in computer science, Niles spent five years “working for ‘the man’” in Wisconsin. In Niles’ case, the man was running telecommunications. “It was more boring than I expected,” he says. That’s when Niles began volunteering on campaigns.
“I sort of fell in sideways,” he says. “I got the opportunity to work for a couple of campaigns on the side.”
Niles would work his normal nine-to-five day job, and then immediately drive out to a campaign event most weeknights. Eventually, Niles became so engulfed in politics that he made the switch from it being a hobby to a career.
Now, as the data and targeting director at the Atlas Project, Niles can use his computer geek skills to help progressive campaigns and organizations across the country. He personally oversaw the construction of the Atlas Project’s online toolkit, an interactive web platform that provides organizations access to raw data and other tools to develop strategic programs at any level of a campaign.
Now that politics is a career for Niles, he’s had to pick up some other hobbies. The punk music fan owns a 2003 Subaru WRX Impreza, a car that he uses to compete in amateur RallyCross events.
Something about Mount Pleasant, a small town nestled in southeast Iowa, leads its residents to careers in politics. Take Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture. He became the town’s mayor, and later Iowa governor and a presidential candidate.
Emily Parcell went to high school with Doug, Vilsack’s younger son, and it was the family’s ambition that made her aware of campaigns. Still, she didn’t expect to have a career in politics. In fact, at college she was studying for a job that’s distinctly non-political.
“I was actually going to school for history and was going to be a librarian,” she says. “It was definitely not something that I was looking for as a career, it just found me.”
While at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, Parcell heard a pitch from a staffer on Al Gore’s caucus campaign, which led to an internship. Then she took a summer job as a paid canvasser for the Iowa Democratic Party. A stint on Sen. Tom Harkin’s 2002 reelection campaign led to a job on Dick Gephardt’s presidential campaign, which translated into a position with the Iowa Democrats’ state Senate caucus. “After that I just went from campaign to campaign,” she says.
Parcell’s extensive campaign experience, which centered on Iowa, made her a prized staffer as the 2008 cycle was starting. She interviewed with then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama personally in Washington, D.C. Clinton asked her to do field; Obama asked her to be his political director for Iowa. Her gut said to go with the guy from Illinois. They had a rapport, one that grew easier after she spent 86 days on the road staffing him.
“Of the political jobs I’ve had, that was sort of the flashiest—direct access to the guy who became president of the United States,” she says.
After the campaign ended she took a position on the inaugural committee and then at MSHC Partners. After the firm folded, Parcell and some colleagues started their own shop, The Pivot Group. She learned something from it all. “In politics,” she says, “you’re never on a high for very long.”
Austria lacked a political communications firm with a true digital presence until Yussi Pick founded Pick & Barth Digital Strategies in 2011. Since then, Pick has made his mark on the campaign world in Austria.
Most notably, Pick helped a campaign put a transparency law for Austria on the public agenda—the country is notorious for having some of the worst rights to government information in Europe, and government secrecy was still a part of its constitution. The campaign Pick advised is close to establishing a freedom of information act in Austria. Pick got his start in politics in his native Austria and his first professional gig came as press secretary for Austria’s student union. “It’s a big federal union that all 200,000 students of Austria are members of,” explains Pick.
But before launching his current firm, he padded his resume working on a number of high-profile campaigns in the U.S. During the 2010 cycle, Pick worked at MSHC Partners as an interactive account manager, and later was director of online strategy at Blueprint Interactive prior to returning to Austria. Now, Pick is focused on helping grow online advocacy in Austria, focusing on campaigns in the public sector.
“The public sector is our core clientele,” he says. “We do everything from communications strategy to campaign consulting, social media—everything that’s online. We help organizations communicate more effectively.”
In helping establish a stronger online campaign presence, Pick’s firm has analyzed many of the tactics used online in last year’s U.S. presidential election. The American University alum is working to apply them to campaigns in his home country.
Count Jessica Post among the new generation of political operatives working to bring science-based tactics to the campaign world.
As political director and national field director at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) ahead of the 2012 cycle, Post helped develop and execute an extensive training program that placed some 100 field organizers on key state legislative races across the country. One of the goals: advance the understanding of targeting and modeling, along with making operatives comfortable working with enhanced voter files.
“We partnered with the New Organizing Institute and made sure our organizers understood how to use best practices,” says Post. “It was the first program of its kind.” Post managed the committee’s field department, and worked with state caucus directors, labor groups and progressive organizations in targeted states to help maintain Democratic state legislative majorities.
For Post, field ops is practically a way of life. During the 2006 cycle, she worked as deputy caucus director and field director for the Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus, notching wins in 13 of 15 targeted state Senate races. Two years later, she was the field director for the Minnesota DFL’s coordinated campaign where she oversaw a statewide team of more than 70 field staff for then-Senate candidate Al Franken and the DFL ticket. During the Franken-Coleman recount later that year, Post staffed more than 15o recount sites with organizers and ballot monitors across the state.
“There’s a real transformative power in working with field staff,” says Post. “When you can give these campaigns trained staffers, like we were able to do at the DLCC, it’s something that can have a huge impact.” Now, as a political advisor at EMILY’s List, Post gets to dedicate herself full-time to a goal she’s had since working on her first campaign in St. Louis more than a decade ago.
“I remember after working on this race for a pro-choice woman candidate that what I really wanted to do was actually make a living helping prochoice women get elected to Congress,” Post recalls. “I’m really excited to have that chance at EMILY’s List.”
Victor Richardson made a crucial decision in 2006. After going to college in the United States and working as a public policy lobbyist in Washington, D.C., he returned to his native Antigua. As a dual U.S.-Antiguan citizen, Richardson could have furthered his career in America, but after coming back to the Caribbean he decided he wanted to stay.
“I started doing what I did in D.C. down here,” he says. “Politics in the Caribbean is much more personal. I got much more involved in politics per se than public policy in the Caribbean.”
Since then, Richardson has consulted extensively on campaigns throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, along with recruiting clients for BuzzMaker. He works as international director to “identify clients in the Caribbean region who could benefit from the services we offer.” One of Richardson’s proudest moments—a tough win in the 2010 general election in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The Unity Labour Party (ULP) was seeking a third term to head the government, and Richardson notes that third terms are always difficult to achieve in the Caribbean. When the ULP was mostly written off early, Richardson helped the campaign to a come-from-behind victory.
“That’s where I brought all I had learned to that point about campaign politics,” he says. “It was successful, it was close, it was hard fought, but it was sweet.”
Richardson’s resume also includes public affairs work, most notably a project to help raise the profile of a trade dispute between the U.S. and the government of Antigua and Barbuda. Richardson’s work resulted in widespread coverage of the trade dispute in the American press. In his time off, Richardson is an avid fisherman, as his family comes from a fishing town in Antigua.
“That is the thing I most enjoy doing in the world,” he says. “Going out on a boat, setting some fish pots, waiting them out and seeing what comes in.”
It was after the 2006 midterm elections when Amelia Showalter ditched her plan to embark on a career in law. Showalter was working on a public policy degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School and was due to start law school the next year, but she says observing the 2006 elections “made me realize I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I wanted to do something in politics.”
For the 2008 election cycle, Showalter found herself at MSHC Partners, working on microtargeting and data projects. Alongside Amy Gershkoff and Joel Rivlin, Showalter helped develop a method of using TV data to microtarget. With a solid background in targeting and data honed at MSHC and later at Changing Targets Media, the 2012 cycle revealed a hunger for the digital side of the campaign world. At Gershkoff’s urging, Showalter made her way to President Obama’s reelection effort where she was named the campaign’s director of digital analytics.
In a campaign obsessed with measurement, Showalter was very much at the center of the Obama digital efforts, and she was tasked with building an expansive team from the ground up. Showalter recruited a team of fifteen data-savvy digital analysts—a team she kept “on-task and drama-free for the length of the campaign,” noted Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign’s digital director.
Showalter’s department ran countless tests to fine tune the campaign’s email program. One discovery for which Goff credits Showalter: increasing the frequency of email sends raised the campaign more money “without materially affecting open rates or non-donation action rates. In other words, blame Amelia for all those Obama emails you used to get.” The experiments designed and run by Showalter’s team led to millions in added revenue for the president’s fundraising operation.
With the 2012 campaign behind her, Showalter is focusing on building her own digital consulting practice, and working to sell progressive groups on the value of testing. “It’s already seeping into other campaigns and organizations,” Showalter says of rigorous testing. “Over the next cycle, we won’t just see advances at the leading edge; we’ll see a greater familiarity with data and testing all around.”
Showalter has been venturing into nonpolitical work with D.C.-based salad chain Sweetgreen and a few nonprofit organizations. Still, Showalter says, politics is her primary home. She counts EMILY’s List and a state teacher’s union among her current clients.
Thomas Rossmeissl counts himself among the “Dean generation.” A student at Boston College during the 2004 presidential cycle, it was former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s campaign that jumpstarted his interest in campaigns. Rossmeissl became a student organizer for Dean at BC, and organized canvassing trips up to New Hampshire ahead of the Democratic primary.
Before he had even graduated college, Rossmeissl had scored a job with one of the industry’s top media consultants—former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi. By the time the 2006 cycle came around, Rossmeissl was part of the production team, working on ads for former Rep. John Hall’s (D-N.Y.) campaign.
“Working with Joe, you really get to think about the chess game that is political media,” says Rossmeissl. “And he helped me understand that right from the start. By 2008, I was working full-time with clients.”
That year, Rossmeissl was on the winning side of California’s “Yes on 2” campaign, working on the online strategy and fundraising effort on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States. During the 2010 cycle, Rossmeissl led the online and social media strategy for California Gov. Jerry Brown’s campaign, helping raise some $3 million online. This past cycle, Rossmeissl led the media campaign for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who came from more than 40 points behind to shock former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman in a Democratic primary, and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) who won in a competitive red-to-blue targeted race in California.
Given the shifting landscape, says Rossmeissl, fully integrated media campaigns are essential. The goal is getting traditional, online and social media to all work in concert to drive the candidate’s message. “The political media world is shifting very quickly,” he says. “Video isn’t going away, but the platform is changing rapidly. Media consultants have to start to shift and understand how pre-roll fits with a broader media campaign.”
The term “creative genius” doesn’t get thrown around a lot on the right these days. But when your firm notches an 80 percent winning record over the past five election cycles, people start talking. The buzz around The Strategy Group for Media certainly has something to do with its creative director, Alex Tornero, who has consulted for Govs. Mike Pence (Indiana) and John Kasich (Ohio). His work has brought the firm a slew of awards, which wasn’t something he expected to happen when he started working at the Ohio House of Representatives right out of high school.
“I was the newspaper clipper in the communications department,” he says. “I took all the important articles of the day and distributed them to the representatives.”
It wasn’t exactly glamorous work, but Tornero kept climbing the ladder of Ohio politics. He worked on the 2006 gubernatorial campaign of Ken Blackwell, where he helped with the campaign’s grassroots objectives. That led to Tornero joining The Strategy Group for Media, where he oversees the entire advertising creative process.
“I write, produce, direct and I work with our team of editors.” he says. “I make sure we get a piece that grabs the audience and gets their attention.”
A lifelong Cleveland Indians fan, Tornero says he’s lucky to have launched his career in his home state, working out of The Strategy Group for Media’s headquarters in Delaware, Ohio. In addition to his campaign work for Blackwell, Pence and Kasich, Tornero has produced ads for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. He also serves on the board of directors for Citizens for Community Values and Ohio Right to Life PAC.
“It’s been a tremendous honor,” he says, “to work with great men and women who are really interested in helping our country improve and getting to know them on a more personal basis too.”
By the time she was 14, Tiffany Waddell already had her first internship on Capitol Hill. Waddell was a congressional aide for the Girl Scouts, and even then she recalls vigorous political debate with her parents each week after the Sunday morning talk shows.
“Growing up in the D.C. area, I was born with the political bug in my genes,” Waddell says.
Waddell has built a resume with extensive fundraising and PAC experience, working in government affairs and political advocacy on Capitol Hill for the past three election cycles. During the 2012 cycle, Waddell served on Mitt Romney’s fundraising team as the Romney Victory National PAC director. She was part of a team that raised some $40 million over the course of the campaign, and Waddell helped raise $4.8 million in PAC donations through trade associations and corporate donors.
At the Republican National Committee she served as Majority Fund Director, overseeing and helping rebuild the committee’s PAC program. During Waddell’s tenure, membership in Majority Fund increased from 14 PACs to more than 200. Waddell left the RNC last month in order to focus on her new job at Brand USA and continue working on an expansion of her fundraising company. The goal at Brand USA is increasing international tourism to the U.S.—the company works with the federal government on international travel.
“My short-term goal is to become an expert in the travel and tourism industry while continuing to build my national network,” she says. Waddell is building Capital Effects, the company she co-founded in 2007, into a full-service Republican consulting firm. Currently an FEC compliance firm for candidates, PACs and state parties, Waddell is launching a fundraising branch as she expands the firm’s offerings.
Waddell says she expects to play a role in helping elect a Republican president in 2016, and she’s keeping her options open for a potential campaign of her own one day.
“I’ll never rule out the possibility of a run for public office at some point,” says Waddell. “I think we need more women in public office.”
In the summer of 2011, Aaron Trost was driving west on Interstate 80 when he made a pit stop in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Illinois native was on his way to the wedding of a friend, but wanted to meet with a prospective client first.
Deb Fischer, then a state lawmaker, was mulling a run for the state’s open Senate seat. Trost, coming of a stint as a direct mail consultant with the Singularis Group, was eager to get back on a campaign. More than that, he wanted to manage another Senate race. The two met at the office of a friend of Fischer’s and got to talking. Trost could feel they had a rapport. “I went into it saying this is going to be really hard, you’re starting late in the race, you don’t have a lot of name ID and your opponent has a lot of money,” he recalls. “There’s not going to be a lot of luxuries.”
For a woman who married into a ranching family, Trost’s words rang true.
“She bought into what I was preaching because it coincided with her view of politics: There aren’t a lot of quick fixes,” says Trost. After getting the job, Trost maneuvered Fischer through a three-way primary where one of her opponents, state Attorney General Jon Bruning, outspent her by close to 10 to 1. In the general, Fischer was outspent again but managed to defeat Democrat Bob Kerrey, a former governor and senator.
Throughout a tough 18-month campaign, Trost and Fischer kept a running gag. “We would always joke around that I’m some washed up political operative and she’s a witty Sand Hills rancher and we made a really good team,” he says. “We were kind of the odd couple.”
After the race, Trost returned to Kansas City and has since added general consulting to his resume. He often thinks about where his career would be today if he hadn’t gotten that wedding invitation. “I still enjoy what I do,” he says. “I’ve never woken up in the morning and said, ‘oh, gosh, I hate my job.’”
With a month off between campaign jobs, Josh Wolf decided to go national park hopping. He’d been working a recall election in Wisconsin and was on his way to California to manage a congressional. He decided to take the scenic route and headed south, winding up in Texas. Outside of Big Bend National Park, an expanse of desert, canyons and streams the size of Rhode Island that runs along the Mexican border, Wolf and a friend stopped in Terlingua.
“It’s just a very small, rural ranching town,” he recalls. The weary travelers found a place that served food and went in. Wolf could overhear one of his fellow diners talking about all of her conversations on Facebook. “Here we were in this saloon in Terlingua, Texas and a 75-year-old woman was literally talking about discussing politics on Facebook,” he says. “It was one of those ‘aha!’ moments: She could have been advertised to.”
Wolf carried on to Sacramento, where he took charge of Ami Bera’s run against Republican Rep. Dan Lungren, who had been in Congress so long people called him the “mayor of Capitol Hill.” Bera, a doctor by trade, had gained notoriety for giving Lungren a scare in 2010.
After that race, redistricting turned Lungren’s district into the 7th and added more Democrats. Bera, who defeated Lungren, scouted Wolf during the 2011 recall race he managed for Fred Clark, a state assemblyman who sought to unseat state Sen. Luther Olsen in one of Wisconsin’s most rural, conservative districts. A Democrat hadn’t held the seat since the 1800s, but after five months on the ground, Wolf brought Clark within a few points of victory, logging the highest Democratic turnout the district had ever seen.
By the time Wolf had gotten to Wisconsin, he’d already had a long political career, starting when he volunteered for state Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D), who represents a district in Wolf’s hometown of Baltimore. “He and I just clicked very early,” Wolf says. “And he just promoted me to manager. It was unthinkable. Outside of volunteering, it was my first time having that much responsibility and I was still a college student at the time.”
Zirkin, who was first elected to the House of Delegates when he was 25, saw something in his then 19-yearold campaign manager. And like Bera, he wasn’t wrong. As the Wisconsin recall elections took the national spotlight in 2011, Wolf decided to pack up his Volvo and head west.
“I just realized there is a career to be had here,” he says. “There’s only so many ways in life where you can be really passionate about what you’re doing, really enjoy it and get to see the whole country.”