Michael Beach, 30, Republican
Partner, Targeted Victory
The 2008 cycle was a challenging one for Republicans—to say the least. But if you’re looking for bright spots, says former RNC political director Rich Beeson, take a look at the committee’s National Victory effort headed by Michael Beach. Overseeing the RNC’s national voter turnout program, Beach found a way to increase volunteer voter contact through phones and door knocks. Consultants credit Beach’s operation with advances in early voting programs that are expected to pay big dividends for campaigns in cycles to come. While the end result wasn’t what the party had hoped for in ‘08, Beeson says “the underlying voter contacts made and uploaded by volunteers were significantly higher in 2008 than 2004, and that is due almost solely to Michael’s innovative implementation of technology and common sense.” It’s where Beach says he is most comfortable—right at the intersection of numbers, business and politics. “I never thought I’d work in politics,” says Beach. “I always thought I’d go into the financial industry or work in economics.”
Post 2008, Beach says he saw “a massive amount of white space in the tech area,” so last year, along with former RNC colleague Zac Moffatt, Beach founded Targeted Victory, a firm specializing in online advertising, social networking and data management for campaigns and causes.
Anthony Bellotti, 32, Republican
Vice President, Campaign Solutions/Connell Donatelli
In 2008, Anthony Bellotti was at the helm of one of the most ambitious online political efforts ever with the “Yes on 8” campaign in California. Bellotti’s use of the Internet won the campaign, which overturned California’s legalization of same-sex marriage, numerous awards.
“Proposition 8 was a great learning experience for pioneering some new techniques that had never been done before in an issue advocacy sense,” Bellotti says. Among those techniques was the largest online ad blitz—or “Google surge”—done up to that point. “It pretty much took over the state for the last 48 hours.”
Not bad for someone who doesn’t consider himself an Internet expert. “Most of my background is in issue advocacy and communications,” he says. “The fundamentals are still the same. Message and design is what it’s all about.”
Bellotti grew up in Fort Lee, N.J., and attended the University of Pennsylvania. He went into investment banking straight out of school but realized that wasn’t for him after a year. He got into issue advocacy after that, founding the Humane Research Council. In 2006, he dabbled in electoral politics, working for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign. Recently, Bellotti has served as the executive director of the American Association of Political Consultants.
According to Becki Donatelli, his current boss, Bellotti is the most liked member of his office. “His nickname here is ‘Mayor Bellotti’—he knows everybody and he knows everything,” she says. “He is a lot of fun and has a great sense of humor.”
Alex Conant, 30, Republican
Communications Director, Tim Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC
If you’re a reporter in Washington, you know Alex Conant. As the RNC’s national press secretary during the 2008 election, Conant waged an assault on the media’s e-mail inboxes—but he did it in a friendly way. His relationships with reporters and his being raised in Minnesota made him an easy choice to handle communications for Tim Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC, which will become the Minnesota governor’s campaign infrastructure should he decide to run for president in 2012.
“Alex understands the needs of both the newsmakers and the news reporters in a very unique way,” says Phil Musser, the executive director of Pawlenty’s PAC. “He is one of the very few guys in town who knows how to lay the foundation for a story.”
Conant grew up attending what he calls a “liberal high school in the liberal city” of St. Paul. He nevertheless always considered himself a Republican and was inspired when the GOP took over Congress in 1994. He worked on former Sen. Norm Coleman’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign and was disillusioned when Jesse Ventura won.
Still, Conant stayed involved in politics, eventually working on Coleman’s Senate campaign and making his way to Washington, where he quickly rose through the ranks of Republican communicators. Now, he finds himself poised to potentially have a significant impact on the 2012 race.
"I never imagined I would be doing what I am doing right now,” he says. “But it’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever been involved with.”
Lisa De Pasquale, 32, Republican
CPAC Director, American Conservative Union
It’s not exactly you’re typical high school crush, but at 16 years old Lisa De Pasquale started listening to Rush Limbaugh after a boy she liked asked her out to his car to listen to the conservative talker on the radio. That was the story she recounted before introducing Limbaugh as the Conservative Political Action Conference’s keynote speaker in 2009. It was her third year directing what has become one of the largest and most influential annual conservative gatherings in the country. Many attribute that growth to De Pasquale’s leadership. As she heads into her fifth year directing CPAC, De Pasquale says the event is still very much on the upswing. “Around half of the 10,000 attendees this year were college students,” she says. “That’s something that will continue to grow. Older activists like seeing that this is still a young movement.” CPAC attendance has increased in every year of De Pasquale’s leadership and has more than doubled during her five-year tenure as director. Prior to joining CPAC, De Pasquale headed the lectures program at the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, where she routinely pushed for more conservative female speakers to take the stage at CPAC. It’s also where she met conservative author Ann Coulter. The institute sponsored several of Coulter’s college lectures across the country that De Pasquale would travel to with Coulter.
Wesley Donehue, 30, Republican
President, Donehue Direct
When Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted at President Obama during an address to a joint session of Congress, a beefed up online presence became an overnight necessity for Wilson. In the aftermath of “You lie,” Wesley Donehue helped Wilson raise more than $2 million in just two weeks as Democratic activists led by MoveOn.org and ActBlue started successfully raising money online for Wilson’s challenger. Despite facing an initial fundraising deficit, the Republican caught up, surpassing the online haul Democrats were able to generate. “I really have grown to love the tech stuff,” says Donehue, who also helped build Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) online presence into one of the largest for a sitting Republican Senator.
Donehue says fellow Republican new media consultant David All introduced him to the emerging technical side of politics while working on Republican Mike Bouchard’s 2006 Senate campaign.
At 30, Donehue just opened Donehue Direct, his own consulting firm with a focus on new media and technology. “You tend to see a lot of Internet guys with just Internet backgrounds,” says Donehue. “But I come from the grassroots and campaign side, so I like to think we offer something more comprehensive.” Based in his home state, Donehue says he’s already had some discussions with potential GOP presidential candidates about that all-important South Carolina primary.
Josh Geleris, 24, Republican
Managing Partner, Edge Targeting
In the summer of 2007, Josh Geleris was just trying to kill some time. Having graduated college and intending to attend medical school, he decided to volunteer on John McCain’s presidential campaign. Geleris got on board in August of ’07, shortly after the campaign had imploded. Just over a year later, he was heading the campaign’s whip operation at the Republican National Convention and medical school was a distant memory.
“I started as a delegate volunteer, then I was hired as a deputy delegate director and I just kept moving up from there,” Geleris says. He was eventually named associate deputy political director, heading up coalitions, surrogates and V.P. operations. After the McCain campaign, Geleris went on to run operations for Ken Blackwell’s campaign for RNC chair and then headed to New Jersey as political director for Steve Lonegan’s gubernatorial campaign just two months before the state’s Republican primary. He quickly realized the campaign had zero ground game, so Geleris started searching for some software that would help with GOTV.
"I couldn’t find anything that did what I was looking for so I started playing with some open source software,” he says. What emerged was Walking Edge, a mobile application that uses GPS technology to guide volunteers and field staffers to targeted voters. It then provides a form for the user to put the results right back into the campaign’s database. Geleris recently formed Edge Targeting to leverage what some are calling a transformative technology. Walking Edge was used in the final days of Sen. Scott Brown’s campaign in Massachusetts and Geleris expects its use by campaigns across the country to be widespread this November.
Tyler Harber, 29, Republican
V.P. and Director of Political Division, Wilson Research Strategies
Tyler Harber seeks to practice politics with military precision. A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Harber originally wanted to join the armed services. “I was too short and too slow to go into the military,” he jokes. “So I went into politics.”
He studied military tactics in college and believes that the principles of Sun Tzu and Napoleon are well suited for politics. “I see campaigns as being very based in military strategy,” he says. “Successful campaigns are organized similarly.”
Harber grew up in a politically active family in Knoxville. His first race was a city council campaign that lost by about 100 votes. He was then hired by an opponent for the run off. That candidate lost by 34 votes. “Fortunately,” Harber says, “my results have gotten significantly better since then.”
When Harber left Tennessee, he landed at Public Opinion Strategies where he worked for Neil Newhouse, one of the best in the business. Harber says he learned at lot there through his work on high profile races like Sen. Lamar Alexander’s 2002 campaign and other races in the South.
Harber left Public Opinion Strategies in 2007 to lead the political division at Wilson Research Strategies. In that role, he has overseen a rapid expansion of the firm. He expects to have between 350 and 400 political clients by the end of the year. Harber has also begun working overseas, most recently providing counsel to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
Sarah Hoffman, 29, Republican
Senior Account Executive, DCI Group
Sarah Hoffman may be one of the biggest innovators in online campaigning you’ve never heard of. Hoffman is the driving force behind DCI’s “Digital Field,” which incorporates nearly every aspect of a tradition field campaign into online tools.
“Clients have a mission or goal, and we take that and translate it into an online strategy,” she says. “Developing a website, blast e-mails and using different things like Twitter, Facebook and Blog Talk Radio. We also engage bloggers and get them to write on issues.”
Because of DCI’s strict rules prohibiting the disclosure of clients, it’s hard to track Hoffman’s work. However, her “Digital Field” seems to be catching on and, according
to Julie Germany—a former Rising Star and Hoffman’s colleague at DCI—Hoffman makes the wheels turn.
“It’s a combination of sheer intelligence, understanding how people work and incredible Southern charm,” Germany says. That Southern charm comes from Hoffman growing up in Mississippi. Her first foray into politics was Haley Barbour’s gubernatorial campaign
where she became the “go to girl” for solutions to nearly every problem. Hoffman believes that her experience working on all different parts of a campaign have helped her translate her vision of “Digital Field” into reality.
“I like to think that I’ve sort of seen everything from what interns do on campaigns all the way up to the media,” she says. “I think that’s what makes everything work. I am not an expert on any one thing, but I have been fortunate enough to work with lots of great people and grasp what they do to understand the bigger picture.”
Kurt Luidhardt, 30, Republican
Vice President, The Prosper Group
By his own admission, Kurt Luidhardt was a bit weird in high school. Instead of listening to music on the radio, Luidhardt tuned into Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio shows. He also recorded Limbaugh’s nightly television show because it was on after he went to bed and watched it the following morning.
Luidhardt knew from an early age that he wanted to be involved in politics, but he couldn’t have envisioned that by age 30 he would play a signify cant role in two major Republican victories: Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 2009 win in Virginia and Sen. Scott Brown’s 2010 win in Massachusetts. In the process, Luidhardt has become one of the GOP’s top thinkers in online campaigning and has developed revolutionary new phone banking techniques.
In 2006, Luidhardt and his wife launched the Prosper Group, where he has honed the use of Voice of Internet Protocol phones. “Maybe through luck,” he says, “I had
the foresight to see that if I was going to specialize in something in politics, it ought to be online strategy. That was going to be the new frontier.”
VoIP phones allow calls to be placed extremely quickly and to sync data with the voter file in almost real time. In the run up to McDonnell’s election, Luidhardt deployed more than 18 phone banks and 750 phones.
In addition to providing phones to the Brown campaign, he built its website and helped execute a tremendously successful money bomb. He also launched the first ever “voter bomb,” which asked people to pledge to take people to vote on Election Day.
Says Rob Willington, the Brown campaign’s new media director: “Kurt works very, very hard, and he’s passionate about what he cares about. As a result, he does quality work and he’s always responding in a quality manner.”
Ford O’Connell, 34, Republican
Three figures form the core of Ford O’Connell’s political philosophy: “Thomas Jefferson, primarily as a political philosopher, Ronald Reagan, the communicator and Haley Barbour, the campaigner.” O’Connell says it was during his work on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s 2007 reelection campaign that he received a real schooling in the art of campaigning. But it was a race that also taught him a tougher lesson: The vast majority of campaigns don’t enjoy the luxuries Barbour’s reelect did. “A great candidate, a strong message and unlimited resources,” is how he remembers that race. “It was kind of like taking an atomic bomb to kill an ant hill.”
When O’Connell was heading rural outreach for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, he says despite having a great candidate, “we were more like a disorganized college hockey team playing the Pittsburgh Penguins.” After watching the Obama campaign successfully use new media to message voters in states and districts that should have been owned by the McCain campaign, O’Connell was convinced that Republican candidates need some serious help when it comes to social media and technology, especially on the state and local level. In early 2009, O’Connell teamed with Steve Pearson to form ProjectVirginia, a political action committee aimed at providing Virginia Republicans the digital communication and social media know-how that their campaigns were sorely lacking. “At the state level, candidates are still grappling with websites and e-mail, really basic stuff,” says O’Connell. “We want to make sure they stay ahead of that curve.”
Matthew Parker, 28, Republican
President and Founder, Front Porch Strategies
Matthew Parker didn’t have a particularly political childhood. His dad was a mailman and Parker planned on going into the military after graduating from Marietta College. A family connection, however, put that plan on hold and landed Parker a White House internship in 2002.
Parker worked in the White House political affairs office under Ken Mehlman and Matt Schlapp. “My eyes were completely opened to the world of campaigning,” Parker recalls. “Once you get sucked in, there is no leaving.”
Parker went on to work several years for former Rep. Bob Ney (R), ascending the ranks from being his driver to running his 2004 reelection campaign. When Ney was indicted and forced to leave office because of his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Parker says he “soured a little bit on the political scene.”
Not for long, however. After a brief stint at BrabenderCox, he started his own firm in 2007. Front Porch Strategies is based on Columbus, Ohio, and focuses on voter contact. The firm’s most notable race is Rep. Bob Latta’s 2007 special election win. Parker worked as campaign manager and helped Latta overcome being outspent by $500,000. Parker pioneered using Voice over Internet Protocol phones for Latta’s phone banking.
“I cannot even describe how hard of a worker Matt is,” Latta recalls. Latta says that Parker has practically become a member of his family. “Matt pretty much moved into the house, it was like having another family member,” Latta says. “We were always with each other, and he was with my wife and our kids. He was just like a family member. That’s how we feel about him.”
Brandon Powers, 27, Republican
President, Powers Communications
In a state that isn’t always kind to Republicans, Brandon Powers is quickly carving out a reputation as one of California’s consultant power players. At the age of 27, Powers has owned and operated his own consulting firm, Powers Communications since 2005. And several Republican operatives in the state point to his leadership as crucial in the Republican effort to restructure their political operation in the state Assembly. In 2008, Powers was at the center of the defeat of Proposition 93—an initiative that would have extended the number of years officeholders could serve in either the Assembly or state Senate. The “No on Proposition 93” campaign was outspent and started behind in the polls, but Powers implemented an earned media strategy that generated significant press coverage in every one of the state’s major media markets.
“California earned media is such a different animal because there are so many media markets in the state,” Powers says. “It’s often tough to get noticed when you’re competing against news about which celebrity just got plastic surgery.”
That same year, Powers managed the campaign of now-Assemblyman Jeff Miller. After Miller’s victory, Powers went on to serve as his chief of staff in Sacramento—the youngest chief of staff in the state. “Brandon’s strategic ability and raw instinct is better than those of managers and strategists who are 20 years older,” says Kevin Spillane, political director of California’s Assembly Republicans, who is currently working against Powers in the primary for attorney general. “If his damned candidate wins, Brandon will have been a key reason why.”
Meredith Quillen, 28, Republican
Project Manager, Targeted Creative Communications
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Meredith Quillen began their careers in politics at just about the same time. And over the course of four hard-fought campaigns, the two have made a winning pair. Quillen first met Cuccinelli in 2002 at a George Mason University College Republicans meeting. He was running for state Senate in a special election at the time and Quillen volunteered for the campaign. After discovering a real aptitude for grassroots campaigning, Quillen ended up as Cuccinelli’s campaign manager. “I pretty much learned campaigning from him,” says Quillen. Despite phone banking for Strom Thurmond in her home state of South Carolina back in high school, Quillen says she never thought she would go into the world of politics before working for Cuccinelli. After the special election victory in August of ’02, Quillen headed to Richmond as a legislative aide to the new state Senator, while still a full-time undergrad at George Mason. “I was the youngest legislative aide on the Senate side and Ken was the youngest Senator in the state Senate,” she says.
After college, Quillen chose the campaign world over the halls of the state legislature and headed to the direct mail firm Targeted Creative Communications. In 2007, she worked on Cuccinelli’s reelection to the state Senate, a victory that was decided in a recount by a margin of just 101 votes. During the 2008 cycle, she successfully managed a multi-million dollar direct mail program for legislative Republicans in Colorado. And last year she took a leave of absence from the firm to manage Cuccinelli’s bid for attorney general, a race that proved to be the smoothest yet for Quillen—Cuccinelli won by a 17 percent margin. “That one was much more an exercise in restraint and message discipline,” says Quillen. “And like all of our races, we were outspent.”
Brian Walsh, 33, Republican
Political Director, National Republican Congressional Committee
When it comes to battle-tested Congressional campaign operatives, there are few more experienced than the NRCC’s Brian Walsh. After serving as press secretary on the campaign of Republican challenger Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) in 2002, Walsh headed to the Hill as her chief of staff at the age of 25. During the 2004 cycle, Walsh was on the move again, serving as a “mercenary” for a slew of NRCC campaign efforts across the country. He was a field representative for Larry Diedrich in South Dakota’s special election to fill its at-large House seat in 2004. Democrat Stephanie Herseth ended up besting Diedrich by the narrowest of margins—less than one percentage point, but it was a race that in many ways foreshadowed Sen. Tom Daschle’s loss that November. Walsh then headed to the Northeast, where he successfully managed the reelection race of Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) and for the 2008 he was back at the NRCC serving as deputy political director and national field director. Now, in a year where Republicans appear poised to make big Congressional gains, Walsh is serving as the committee’s political director where he’s won praise from party operatives for the strength of the committee’s recruiting class.
John Yob, 33, Republican
CEO, Strategic National
John Yob sums up his work on Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign quite succinctly: “I was one of the survivors.”
Yob survived the near complete gutting of the campaign team that occurred early in the primary season and, along with campaign manager Rick Davis, went on to become the longest serving members of McCain’s inner circle. Yob, who led the campaign’s political department, recalls what a rollercoaster it was, particularly when McCain went from being pronounced dead to winning the New Hampshire primary in four months. It was a process that taught him important lessons about politics.
“That was my first professional experience on a presidential campaign,” Yob says. “In politics things are never as good or as bad as they seem. You just need to keep an even keel. If you have the right message, the right candidate and the right team, things will work out well.”
McCain isn’t the only candidate for Yob. He has found other politicians to work for who are willing to stray from the party line. He is currently working for Tim Cahill’s independent bid for governor of Massachusetts, as well as Democrat-turned-Republican Steve Levy’s New York gubernatorial campaign.
“Certainly I think that voters are fed up with the party system, and there is an energy for politicians to come in from outside that system,” Yob says.
At Strategic National, Yob has become the go-to consultant for Republican candidates in Michigan. He has also been at work developing new technologies, including BlackBerry and iPhone canvassing applications.
John Weaver, who worked with Yob on the McCain campaign, says Yob has the rare ability to look at a situation from both the meta and micro perspectives. “He’s a top strategist and a great day to day warrior,” Weaver says. “You usually don’t find both.”
Each year Campaigns & Elections chooses a select group of political operatives and strategists to be named Rising Stars. The 2010 winners include not only consultants and campaign managers, but technological innovators, fundraisers and an art director.
Every one of the hundreds of applications we received painted a picture of talented and hard-working people who are younger than 35 years old, but the 40 chosen to be Rising Stars stood out above the rest.
This year's awards are presented by Aristotle.