Eric Hogensen, 35, Democrat

President, HSG Campaigns

Eric Hogensen met his wife during his stint as the South Carolina field director for Wesley Clark’s 2004 presidential campaign. Somehow he convinced Laura, a Palmetto State native, to join him back in Wisconsin where soon after he began his consulting career. As the cold weather set in, though, the couple started looking west. “The winters are tough in Milwaukee,” says Hogensen. “I want my wife to ben happy.” So two years ago, they made the move to Los Angeles, where Hogensen reestablished HSG Campaigns, a direct mail and new media firm he’d founded three years earlier. “The urban environment just made a lot of sense,” says Hogensen, who has consulted on local races in Chicago and Los Angeles. After he got to California, though, the questions started coming from potential clients. Was he Latino? Italian? Despite growing up in Wisconsin, where winter can feel like three of the four seasons, Hogensen has a darker complexion. It’s his heritage from a Mexican mother and a Jewish father.

“That was something I had to start telling people,” he recalls, chuckling. Both his parents were artists, his father a writer and his mother a potter. The creativity that goes into the production process is something that attracted Hogensen to direct mail, although not initially.

Having managed several campaigns, including Rep. Steve Kagen’s (D-Wis.) 2006 race, Hogensen was first drawn to management before deciding it just wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle. Being on the West Coast, says Hogensen, helps him get out of the “group think” that often prevails inside the Beltway. “There are a lot of questions about the future of direct mail,” he says. “Being on the outside helps you think through the future.”

Whitney Hurt, 25, Republican

Director of Operations, The Political Insider

Growing up in a rural town in Eastern Kentucky, it was only by chance that Whitney Hurt ended up in politics. Hurt was in Washington, D.C. one weekend for a friend’s birthday, and she ended up being offered an internship at Campaign Solutions.

“I never intended to get into politics, I always wanted to be a news analyst,” she says. “I went to D.C. one weekend and never left. My mom even had to mail me clothes.” From there, it wasn’t long before Hurt was working for the campaign industry’s trade association— the American Association of Political Consultants—as its membership director. She hasn’t left politics since. Hurt is now director of operations at The Political Insider, an organization that compiles lists of contributors, online purchasers, activists, and financial investors. In her current role, Hurt has worked with hundreds of organizations, campaigns, and PACs all across the nation, and she has expanded the company’s subscriber database from 250,000 in 2010 to 850,000 today. She also serves as the president of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the AAPC.

“Whitney is incredibly gifted and talented,” says Dale Emmons, president of the AAPC. “She’s never met an assignment she is not 110 percent in.” When Hurt isn’t in the office, you’ll find her either traveling to music festivals or volunteering her time at military appreciation events. “Growing up in a military family, I think it’s important to give back and to honor our troops.”

Dan Judy, 33, Republican

Vice President, North Star Opinion Research

Dan Judy vividly recalls the first campaign he was a part of. It was 1994 and he was helping place Newt Gingrich yard signs in his hometown of Roswell, Ga. “It was really the Republican takeover of Congress that year that got me interested in politics,” says Judy. Two internships followed—one in former Sen. Paul Coverdell’s Atlanta office and another in the D.C. office of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

After college, he sought out pollster Whit Ayres for some career advice. At the time, Ayres’ firm was located in Roswell, and Ayres and Judy were members of the same church. “I asked him for some advice and he ended up calling me back a couple of days later to find out if I wanted to help out at his firm,” says Judy. Not long after, Ayres offered him a full-time job at his polling firm. Judy has been at the firm ever since, moving with the company to Washington, D.C. several years ago and helping lead the firm’s new branding effort after changing its name to North Star Opinion Research.

Judy polls for both the firm’s corporate and political clients, the sort of diversity that’s hard to find as an operative living from campaign to campaign. This cycle, Judy was involved in his first presidential campaign—former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s effort. He’s also polling for competitive Congressional contests and working for local campaigns and issue groups.

To Republican strategist Fred Davis, Judy was that “kid in the back row just aching to say something wise.” Now, he says, “Dan’s time has come.” Davis, who has worked several campaigns with North Star’s principals and Judy, says, “he’s now leading the focus groups, writing the questionnaires and explaining complex data to clients.”

Chris Keohan, 30, Democrat

President, CK Strategies

Former Massachusetts state Sen. Anthony Galluccio’s (D) resignation in early 2010 touched off a competitive special election race that helped launch Chris Keohan’s consulting career. Keohan had done advance on Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, worked field under Mike Henry on Tim Kaine’s 2005 winning gubernatorial bid and served as a political adviser to Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.).

The state Senate race, though, was closer to home. An Everett native, Keohan was managing the campaign of Sal DiDomenico, a close friend and Everett city councilman. DiDomencio was up against a half dozen other candidates, including Cambridge attorney Timothy Flaherty. On Election Day that April, Keohan was in the boiler room watching the numbers come in. In a moment of panic, he rushed back to the campaign headquarters and began marshaling the canvassers.

“It was a madhouse,” Keohan recalls. “A lot of people thought Sal was going to lose.” When his girlfriend at the time came back to the office having walked a packet in high heels, Keohan sent her back out. “I figured if she came back, she’s a keeper,” he says.

By 8 p.m. DiDomenico’s deficit had turned into a slender 135-vote lead. He won the primary and subsequently held the seat. Keohan also emerged a winner from that race, riding a wave of positive word-of-mouth to consulting jobs on several other high-profile local campaigns. “Local races are some of the most fun races you can work on,” he says. And the girlfriend he sent back out canvassing? She’s now his fiancé.

John Lee, 27, Democrat

Senior Vice President, NGP VAN

Data was integral to John Lee’s political life right from the start. His first campaign gig was as an intern on Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign where he was tasked with data processing. “I always had a healthy interest in technology and politics,” says Lee. “It was interning on the Kerry campaign that I really began to appreciate the slowness of existing databases.”

After the Kerry campaign, Lee landed an internship at the Voter Activation Network (VAN). When Lee started at the company, the staff consisted of a dozen people at most. During his time there, it has grown to around 140, completed a merger with NGP, and has made as great an impact on the political technology world as any other firm on the Democratic side of the aisle. NGP VAN’s technology platform offers campaigns, labor unions, and non-profits an integrated suite of fundraising, field, organizing, and online tools that clients—from

Obama for America to the national party committees—have employed to better wield their data. Two years ago, Lee played a critical role in the strategic merger of NGP and VAN after which he emerged as the senior vice president in charge of the VAN product, which powers the Democratic National Committee’s VoteBuilder platform.

He also aided in the launch of NGP VAN’s Accelerator product and the company’s new Social Organizing tool, which allows supporters of a campaign to match their Facebook friends to the voter file. “Between all of the platforms and the channels of communication, we’re seeing a huge shift to digital,” says Lee. “It’s great to be right on the leading edge of that.”

Crystal Martin, 34, Nonpartisan

President and Founder, mailPOW

For Crystal Martin, a light bulb went off the day her daughter brought home a talking greeting card. “I thought, ‘Wow, what if I can do that in political mail?’” And that’s exactly what she set out to do—create the talking political mailer. After traveling to China, where Martin worked with a manufacturer to create and produce her first pieces of talking direct mail, she presented the model to AARP. The advocacy group quickly placed an order and Martin was off and running.

She went on to found her own firm—mailPOW—earning the Rookie of the Year award from the American Association of Political Consultants in 2011. Currently, the firm creates the cards in its California facility—the only company that creates the sound cells for talking cards here in the U.S. This past cycle, Martin’s creation was used in a slew of high profile federal races. Delaware voters, for example, were treated to an anti-Christine O’Donnell direct mailer that cackled like a witch once opened.

“She’s tenacious enough to come up with the idea herself and then go out and figure out how to do this for all of her clients,” says Rich Schlackman, president of RMS Associates. A graduate of National University’s business school with an emphasis in marketing, Martin previously managed the marketing agency, SMART Marketing, and worked at the communications firm MarCom Group, Inc. “Because of Crystal, we will see direct mail in campaigns evolve to a new level over the next few years,” says Democratic consultant Marty Stone.

In addition to AARP, Martin’s firm has created talking mailers for the San Francisco Association of Realtors and AFSCME. Even the Air Force and the National Guard have used her creation to give U.S. troops the chance to record personal messages to their loved ones back home.

Jennifer May, 29, Democrat

Partner, Next Level Partners

Jennifer May wants to transform the way campaigns think about compliance, and she’s off to a pretty good start as partner at Next Level Partners, the firm she founded with Mark Warren. The firm boasts a new approach to compliance, processing donations the same day they’re received. May got her start in New Jersey politics where she worked with state legislative candidates in South Jersey, including the late Rep. John Adler’s campaign.

In 2008, she was the finance director on Adler’s successful run for Congress. The following cycle, May served as finance director to Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.), who raised some $3 million that year. May came up with an aggressive recruiting plan that resulted in hundreds of new donors for Murphy, including one quarter during which 58 percent of individual donors were new contributors to the campaign. Before helping found Next Level, May earned her MBA from New York University.

“Jennifer brings a nice mix of business and operational background and extensive experience on the campaign trail,” says Warren, a partner at NLP who has been working with May for almost 10 years. “She’s extremely innovative, and the master of operations that’s enabled NLP to change our industry.”