Each year, Politics magazine asks our readers to name the political world's young stars. Out of hundreds of nominees, these 27 individuals shone the brightest.
We present to you: The class of 2009.
Brent Blackaby 34, Democrat
In early 2003, Brent Blackaby was working in Silicon Valley as an online marketer at E-Trade. Politics was a passion for Blackaby, but he never imagined it would become a career. That year, one potential candidate captured Brent’s attention—retired Gen. Wesley Clark. Soon, Blackaby was using his marketing background to help launch the online “Draft Clark” movement, which was eventually credited for the general’s entrance into the race. “Gen. Clark was the person who got me into politics,” says Blackaby. “And that experience was a transformational one.” In the wake of the Clark campaign, Blackaby and his partner on the Draft Clark effort, Larry Huynh, headed back to California to found Blackrock Associates, an online marketing and consulting firm dedicated to Democratic campaigns and causes. Blackaby manages the firm’s online strategy work for some of the party’s top names, including Sens. Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer. One focus for Blackaby is the idea of “online lifecycle management”—the notion that keeping online communities growing and thriving in off-years means a larger and more active base of online support when the next campaign rolls around. “[Sen. Boxer] started with a list of about 30,000 emails,” Blackaby says. “Over the course of the past few years, we’ve built that up to over 500,000. There’s much more value in online engagement than simply raising money for an election.”
Tucker Bounds 30, Republican
In the summer of 2007, John McCain’s presidential campaign was imploding. Out of money and seemingly out of contention, McCain was forced to let most of his staff go. Tucker Bounds was part of the purge. So Bounds went to work at the American Insurance Association, where he was named vice president of public affairs. “My plan was to take a good, long sabbatical from campaign politics,” says Bounds. “But then McCain won Florida and I got a call.” The McCain campaign was staffing up again— on its way to winning the Republican nomination. Bounds returned as deputy communications director and became one of the most visible faces of the Arizona senator’s media operation, often credited with helping keep McCain afloat and credible in a rough year for the GOP. “I saw early on that Tucker had a great instinct for politics,” says Dan Lavey, a longtime Oregon political consultant who recruited Bounds to work on a state legislative race in 2002 while he was still a student at the University of Oregon. “So it didn’t surprise me at all that I’d see him a few years later on Larry King, talking about the presidential campaign he was working on.” After the McCain campaign, Bounds headed back to his home state of Oregon as a partner at Quinn Thomas Public Affairs, where he does a mix of corporate and political work. Bounds was just named communications director for Meg Whitman in California’s race for governor. “I’m slowly learning that I have a really difficult time staying away from campaigns,” he says.
Shannon Burns 33, Republican
There’s got to be a better way. That one phrase sparked Shannon Burns’ career in politics. As a volunteer for the Bush- Cheney campaign in Ohio in 2004, Burns saw that “there was absolutely no technology being used at all for operations.” So, having a background in technology, he set out to find the better way. By the 2006 Ohio governor’s race, Burns’ ideas for VOIP phone banking had been adopted by Ken Blackwell’s campaign and became the basis for his company, Victory Solutions. “Volunteers and campaigns using our technology are tripling the output of their volunteer operation,” Burns says. “Then the same volunteer base can be that much more effective and essentially reach more voters and make more call attempts and make a bigger impact. For that matter, when the systems can do automated calling, which can supplement your volunteer operations, it is that much greater.”
Victory VOIP went nationwide in 2006, thanks to a unique business plan.
“We don’t do business directly with campaigns at all,” Burns says. “We’ve spent an enormous amount of time and personal capital developing relationships with consultants across the nation whom we partner with and we train. They actually go to market for us; they identify and bring on new campaigns.”
Burns says his future lies in finding new ways to integrate a wider spectrum of campaign technology into Victory Solutions’ products.
Kurt Luidhardt of the Prosper Group says, “He might be known, particularly in Republican circles, as a guy who can provide phone technology, but I wouldn’t be surprised if four or five years later that people forget that’s where he started.”
Jessica B. Colón 34, Republican
As a young politico, Jessica Colón had her dream job: working for a top D.C. media firm. Then love—first of a husband, then a daughter—took her away to Houston.
The move gave Colón, the chair of the Young Republican Federation, a chance to look at politics from a different perspective than most consultants: as an outside-the-Beltway volunteer. “Politics is everywhere,” she says. “My volunteer experience gives me an appreciation for the entire political process.” Besides her extensive work with the YRF, she organized get out the vote efforts, campaigned for social security reform and appears frequently on Fox News—all while working in corporate communications and raising a daughter.
After leading Texas state Senate candidate Joan Huffman to a key victory last year, Colón decided to leave the safe and secure “corporate bosom,” as she calls it, and open Colón & Company, a political consulting firm. She is working with local candidates to help to maintain the Republican majority in Texas.
Could the political path lead her back to D.C.? “I always tell people that I never close any doors,” she says.
Adam Conner 24, Nonpartisan
Three years ago, Adam Conner was a senior at George Washington University, watching “The West Wing” and plotting a career in politics. Today, he’s helped coordinate a presidential debate, delivered thousands of voters to the polls and helped bring politics into the Internet age.
“Adam identified early on that Facebook and social media were underused in politics,” says Michael Bassik, chief digital officer at Air America. “He paved the way for thousands of candidates.”
Conner, who bought some of the first Facebook political ads while working for Gov. Mark Warner’s Forward Together PAC in 2006, founded the social networking site’s D.C. office a year and a half ago. Almost immediately, he helped Facebook co-host the New Hampshire primary debate with ABC News, and in November over 5 million voters used the site’s GOTV tools. Most of the work is about helping candidates and advocacy groups, Conner says. “It’s about preaching the good word.” Facebook offers access to 60 million U.S. voters, spanning the entire political spectrum. The last election, he points out, was won by the candidate with the most Facebook friends. “It’s nothing you can ignore anymore,” he says. “It’s as important or more important than your press person.”
Facebook is not ignoring politics, doubling the size of its Washington office—to two full-time employees.
John Del Cecato 35, Democrat
John Del Cecato had a busy 2008. It was a busy year for anyone making political videos, but AKPD, David Axelrod’s former firm where Del Cecato is a partner, was in the thick of the presidential race.
“There were times when we were producing three to five ads a day,” says Del Cecato, who was responsible for writing, directing and producing many of Obama’s nationally broadcast television ads. “It was an intense process.”
Del Cecato came to AKPD in 2001 after working with the firm’s founder on Fernando Ferrer’s mayoral campaign in New York. “Axelrod said, ‘I want you to come work for me,’ and I said, ‘You’re the only consultant in this business I would work for, but I don’t want to move to Chicago, it’s too cold,’” he remembers. The solution was to open a New York office. “I couldn’t say no to that,” Del Cecato says.
So where does AKPD go after getting the president elected?
“Well, we’re not short of offers to do work. We’re having no difficulties there,” Del Cecato says. While he says replicating that campaign for other candidates would be a mistake, Del Cecato will take the lessons of 2008 with him. “I’m very optimistic about what President Obama did on the campaign trail and what he’s doing as president. It really has really given hope that there is a way to change politics-as-usual and it’s made me a lot more optimistic about staying in this business for years to come.”
Danny Diaz 33, Republican
Co-workers are used to getting phone calls from Danny Diaz at strange times—10:56 on a Tuesday night for example. Diaz never stops thinking about politics, but it wasn’t always that way.
He describes his post-collegiate stance as “essentially apolitical,” but he was captivated by the 2000 Florida recount and it drove him to politics. Inspired, he spent a year handing out resumes on Capitol Hill before landing a job with the NRCC doing Spanish-language communications. From there, his work ethic and strategic thinking helped him rise to the top. In 2004 he led President Bush’s communications work in nine southwestern states, winning them all (and coming up with the hit idea for anti-Kerry “Waffle Breakfasts”). In late 2007, after working with the McCain campaign, Diaz took the top communications job at the RNC. This year, he launched his own firm.
Diaz hopes private work will be a chance to step back from the campaign workload—for ten years his wife and four children have put up with him shipping off to New Mexico at a moment’s notice. But co-workers say they will have to see a slowdown before they believe it.
“Diaz will never get outworked,” explains PR consultant Brian Jones, who has overseen Diaz on multiple campaigns. “He never stops doing his job.”
Rob Engstrom 34, Nonpartisan
An Atlanta native, Rob Engstrom counted himself lucky to land his first job in politics in his home state in 1997—even if the job wasn’t the most stimulating. He worked for the campaign of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “I ended up sitting in the room that Newt affectionately called ‘the sweat shop,’” remembers Engstrom. “I sat in a steel chair and entered checks all day.” From there Engstrom landed at the Republican National Committee as a staff assistant and soon moved into the RNC’s division of political education. In 2002, Engstrom was hired at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and started moving up its political ranks. In his current position as vice president for the political affairs and federation relations division, Engstrom just about does it all—he digs up the oppo, manages the polling and figures out how to deploy the message for the chamber’s media campaigns. He runs the day-to-day operations of all of the chamber’s political and grassroots activities. This past election cycle, he oversaw the Chamber’s largest voter education campaign ever—the cost was north of $30 million. Engstrom also manages the chamber’s “Taft Project,” which targets key House and Senate races vital to the chamber’s business interests. The closest Engstrom got to a vacation this past year was a two-week trip to St. Paul, Minn., where he helped lead Sen. Norm Coleman’s recount effort. “I took two and a half weeks of personal time to go out there,” he says. “I thought it was a pretty good vacation actually.
Josh Ginsberg 26, Republican
At 26, Josh Ginsberg is already a veteran of three presidential contests, and he’s had the good fortune of learning the art of the political campaign from some of the best operatives in the business. In the summer of 1999, Ginsberg caught the eye of Ken Mehlman, who at the time was the national field director for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Ginsberg interned in the strategy department alongside Karl Rove and Matthew Dowd that year. “It was a great jumping-off point for me,” says Ginsberg. “Working with people who are that good and who actually take an interest in you had a profound impact on my career.” In 2004, Mehlman hired Ginsberg to work on the president’s reelection effort. From there he went on to work as field director for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 campaign for California governor. “At 24, he was leading the largest turnout operation ever undertaken by the Republican Party in California,” says Terry Nelson, who was so impressed with Ginsberg he tried to recruit him for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. Ginsberg opted instead for Mitt Romney’s campaign where he was named national field director. Now vice president at Mercury Public Affairs, Ginsberg is a key player in the initiative campaign aimed at curbing California’s budget crisis.
Daniel Gotoff 34, Democrat
Daniel Gotoff ’s first campaign experience came young—really young. As a baby he appeared in literature for his father’s school board campaign. “I don’t hold that against him,” Gotoff says. Nor should he: It was the first of Gotoff ’s many campaign victories. Gotoff, who heads Lake Research Partners’ New York City office, has helped a huge roster of progressive candidates win, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to local candidates. When Gotoff joined LRP as an intern in 1996, it was an 11-person firm. Thirteen years later, the firm has more than three times as many employees.
Celinda Lake, the firm’s president, says Gotoff has been a huge part of that growth. “He’s invaluable,” she says. “He’s really anchored and underscored the values of our firm.” LRP had long been thinking of expanding with an office in New York, a hotbed for progressive politics, and Gotoff, who has family ties to the city, was a perfect fit to lead it.
But his wins come everywhere, even in the less-friendly Midwest, where he’s helped U.S. Congressmen win with liberal platforms. “That to me is very satisfying, when even on red ground, you can stake out a position that is termed as progressive and win,” he says.
Julie Greene 29, Democrat
After graduating college, Julie Greene was torn. She could either head home to Ohio or stay in D.C. and make a home on her friend’s couch for a few months while searching for a job. She chose the latter, and it brought her to one of the top direct mail firms in the country—MSHC Partners. She was one of 20 temporary staffers the firm hired for the 2002 election cycle, and she was the only one the firm offered a full-time spot after November. Over the next five years, Greene would rise to a senior-level staff position at MSHC and by the 2006 cycle she was planning and executing million-dollar direct mail campaigns. “I was really lucky because every cycle [the firm] let me go out and do campaign work, too,” she says. By the time the ’08 cycle rolled around, Greene was looking for a new challenge. She found it at the AFL-CIO, where she was brought on as campaign operations analyst. She was tasked with directing the AFL’s $15 million national communications and mail program. “Honestly, I was scared to death when I started,” she says. “All I heard was how big a job it was going to be and how much was at stake.” As head of the AFL’s member communications program, Greene oversaw a mail campaign that created one of the most talked-about pieces of mail in the entire 2008 cycle—the “Rumors” piece. Targeted at union members, the mailer addressed head-on the underground rumors about Barack Obama’s religion and upbringing.
Jessica Grounds 28, Democrat
Most people have enough trouble keeping up with one job. Jessica Grounds is succeeding in three. She’s a vice president at Stones’ Phones, a Democratic firm where she’s worked for five years, and leads two operations supporting women in politics.
Grounds is the president of the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee, as well as the associate director of Running Start, a non-profit that educates young women about why it’s important to run for office.
“I try to balance everything, and then I just work on the weekends a lot and I’m out networking at night,” Grounds says. “A lot of it is just about building relationships and trying to grow our organization.”
For Grounds, the goal is to have more women walking the halls of power as officeholders and staffers.
“I was one of those rare people that sort of found my passion early in life—I got really excited about politics in college,” Grounds says. “And I’ve always had a fiery feminist part of me where I think, from a very young age, I’ve just been oriented towards encouraging other women.”
John Phillips, the founder of Aristotle, where Grounds worked previously, described her as “unbelievably determined and tenacious.” And he paid her the compliment every consultant wants: “I would not want to be on the other side of a political battle.”
Steve Grove 31, Nonpartisan
Many of us referred to 2008 as the “YouTube election,” and Steve Grove was a big reason why. As the director of news, politics and nonprofits for the immensely popular video sharing site, he helped put politics on computer screens around the world. “My role here is really about developing opportunities to use video for political purposes,” says Grove.
“He has truly breathed life into YouTube politics and inspired everyone around him on a daily basis,” says coworker Olivia Ma.
Formerly a journalist at the Boston Globe and ABC News, Grove first realized the power of YouTube in 2006 as Sen. George Allen’s now infamous “Macaca” video spread across the Internet. The video not only sank Allen’s campaign, but also showed Grove how the media world was changing. He joined the staff at YouTube in January of 2007.
“I became enamored with this phenomenon in the way that people were using it to be seen and be heard in a way they hadn’t been in the past,” Grove says.
Grove sees his job as allowing regular people to participate in political discussions previously reserved only for talking heads and giving them access to the traditional halls of power. Following 2008’s CNN/YouTube debates, which Grove worked on, he sees YouTube only becoming a more powerful force in campaigns. “It really makes it a dialogue in the truest sense,” he says.
YouTube’s next step is to create a space for dialogue for international politics. “Video helps us close cultural gaps and close borders in a way we couldn’t before,” Grove says.
Nicole Harburger 33, Democrat
Nicole Harburger’s colleagues at GMMB say there isn’t much she can’t do. “In baseball they’d call her a five-tool player,” says Greg Pinelo, a partner at GMMB who has worked with Harburger for four years. “Really, she can do everything well.”
During the 2006 cycle, Harburger wrote over 40 commercials for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and was a key player in the Democrats’ success.
Harburger developed her skills through a string of political jobs. Before graduating from Georgetown, she worked as a speechwriter for the DNC’s Women’s Leadership Forum, had an internship with Sen. Ted Kennedy and worked as a journalist.
Before joining GMMB, where she is now a vice president, she was a press secretary for Reps. Marty Meehan and Carolyn Maloney and communications director for the Democratic Governor’s Association and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno’s gubernatorial campaign.
“Nicole stands out in her ability to just really relate to people, both clients and the people that she works with, and to develop really strong relationships of trust all around her, because people sense that real judgment and great strategic sense,” Pinelo says.
Originally from Massachusetts, Harburger says she drew inspiration from her progressive grandmother and the public service of the iconic Kennedy family.
“I think my work over the years has fortified my values,” says Harburger. “Working in politics or public service, we’re fortunate in that every day we have an opportunity to kind of deploy our values and work for what we believe in.”
Katie Harbath 28, Republican
The future can’t get here fast enough for Katie Harbath. With an already impressive resume—including online communication work for the RNC and Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign—she is looking for the next step in campaigning.
“Campaigns have to learn to be more conversational,” Harbath says; they need to use Twitter, social networks and streaming video for rapid responses to developments on the trail. “I have yet to see an actual communications department utilize social media in a way to do their job—they still see it as the ‘new media’ department over there.”
Now the director of DCI Digital for the DCI Group, Harbath continues to preach the gospel of online campaigning. “One of the best things about the Internet is that you can do it very microtargeted,” Harbath says. “So you’re not necessarily wasting your time with somebody who’s far to the left or far to the right who you know you’re never going to reach.”
As for her own future, she says it’s too soon to tell.
“I don’t think that the job that I’m going to have two or five years from now exists yet. For me, I always want to be staying on the cutting edge and figuring out how to combine all of these great tools on the Internet with the best way to be communicating with people—not to people, but with people.”
Robert E. Jones 32, Democrat
Democrats have been clawing their way back into the Texas legislature in recent cycles, and many credit one person: Robert Jones, the political director at Annie’s List, a PAC dedicated to electing Democratic women.
“He’s literally singlehandedly reversed the Republican trend of legislative victories in Texas, and that is no small feat,” says Liz Chadderdon, head of the Democratic mail firm the Chadderdon Group.
Jones’ success did not come overnight. He did campaign work for Bill Bradley, EMILY’s List and The Moratorium Campaign. And he formulated his strategy for Democrats in Texas years before seeing results.
“By putting together that plan in 2004 of the viable districts that we thought might be winnable in 2004, ’06, ’08 and ’10, and by organizing a massive task that way, we figured out where to focus our resources and hone in on the most viable races and get people to buy into the organization,” Jones says.
Those watching the wins pile up say Jones is the only one who could pull it off.
“It was going to have to be someone who came from out of state, with an enormous amount of national experience and the understanding of how to run campaigns correctly, not the old-fashioned Texas way,” Chadderdon says. “Robert said, ‘We’re not going to play it that way.’”
And what’s next? “There’s still plenty more work to do,” Jones says. “And I think I’ll just take it to the next level and be thinking about how to elect the next woman governor or the next woman attorney general.”
Amy Leveton 33, Democrat
Amy Leveton jokes that, professionally, she was born at Penn Schoen & Berland Associates, one of the country’s top Democratic polling and consulting shops. In her 11 years at the firm, Leveton has moved from junior analyst to managing director of Penn Schoen’s Washington headquarters. She was the firm’s first female vice president in its 33 year history. “I was actually planning to get a Ph.D. in political science, but I had a professor who advised me to go out and work in the real world first,” she says. Leveton had more than a dozen interviews and says she had plenty of offers, but chose Penn Schoen. “Mark has been a great mentor to me,” she says. “He’s challenged me in a lot of ways and I’m better off for it.” Along with her research and branding work for the firm’s corporate clients, Leveton has played a key role in each of now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. In 2000, she managed all political research for Clinton’s initial Senate campaign, and in 2008 served as head of research for Clinton’s presidential bid. Leveton has also played a major role in the firm’s expansion—helping open its Seattle, London and San Francisco offices. Mark Penn calls her “one of the most creative, insightful and dogged researchers I’ve ever encountered.”
Alex Lundry 31, Republican
Alex Lundry is on the cutting edge of the ever-growing and increasingly sophisticated world of political microtargeting. As vice president and director of research at TargetPoint Consulting, Lundry was instrumental in pioneering new techniques this past election cycle. During its work for the Romney campaign, TargetPoint utilized a newly developed metric called a “net promoter score.” It helps measure the likelihood that a supporter will promote and recruit on a candidate’s behalf. Lundry put it to use for the Iowa Straw Poll to identify Romney advocates, helping the former governor to a commanding win. “The basic idea is asking better questions and making better use of the data you’ve got,” says Lundry. After three years as a teacher, Lundry began his political career working for pollster Frank Luntz. “I got some great experience doing focus groups and learned a lot,” he says, “but I was hungry for some more quantitative work.” That’s when he found TargetPoint. Along with the net promoter metric, Lundry helped develop an online survey methodology that gets at the intensity of a respondent’s feelings and made use of so-called list experiments to reveal hidden racial and gender biases. As for what’s next, Lundry’s most excited about data visualization, which he thinks will “quickly become a competitive advantage in our field.”
Christopher Malagisi 28, Republican
In the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, Christopher Malagisi was a college freshman who felt a pull toward the GOP. It wasn’t until after September 11th—the week he started a White House internship— that his political leanings began to feel like a lifelong mission.
As the founder of the Young Conservatives Coalition, he’s now trying to train the next generation of Republicans to lead that mission. On Nov. 5, 2008—not a happy day for many Republicans—he founded the group to mobilize young conservatives and resurrect the GOP. Malagisi took his flock on a retreat, and the group returned with the Lake Anna Declaration, a 15-point declaration meant to bring the party back to its core beliefs.
“There’s the joke, ‘Republicans are lost in the wilderness,’” Malagisi says. “Well, we went into the wilderness and came out with this new platform.”
Before striking out on his own, Malagisi worked in youth and development for several presidential campaigns, including George Bush in 2004 and John McCain and Fred Thompson in 2008. He serves as an adjunct professor in the School of Public Affairs at his alma mater, American University, and he is the director of political training and in charge of recruitment at The Leadership Institute. “Everything he undertakes he does well,” says Morton Blackwell, president of the Leadership Institute. “He’s the crème de la crème.”
Brian Nick 33, Republican
The decision to defer law school for a year turned out to be the best of Brian Nick’s young career. His interest in politics was virtually non-existent when he was offered a spot as travel aide to Marilyn Quayle while her husband geared up for a 2000 presidential run. “It was actually during the time I was working for Marilyn that I had the realization that I was just planning on going to law school for the degree,” says Nick. “It wasn’t really what I wanted to do.” Quayle later recommended Nick to then-Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole, and soon Nick was thrown into the thick of one of the country’s most contested Senate races when Dole named Nick her deputy campaign manager. “I saw right away that Brian was a person with exceptional talent,” says Dole. “He’s a strategic thinker, but he’s also good at tactics.” After the 2002 election, Nick came to the Hill and quickly moved up the ranks of Dole’s Senate staff. He started as press secretary, was later named communications director and then chief of staff. At the end of the ’08 cycle, veteran Republican media man Fred Davis tapped Nick to open and head the Washington office for his firm, Strategic Perception, where Nick already has a jump-start on some of the top federal and statewide races of the coming cycle.
Irina Pruidze 32, Nonpartisan
Irina Pruidze grew up in Tbilisi, surrounded by a decaying and Soviet-controlled educational and political system. “People had, and still have, a very limited understanding of statehood, citizenship and leadership,” Pruidze says. It was that culture that led her to politics. “I first wanted to become more active myself as a citizen, and then draw other people to participation in politics.” In 2002, she joined the Young Rights of Georgia, the youth organization of the country’s New Rights Party—a center-right group that advocates limited government and free enterprise for Georgia. “My country has experienced the disastrous results of Communism, and we still face serious problems because of that era,” she says. “I’m convinced that it’s our duty to build a truly pluralistic, participatory democracy.” Now, as deputy international secretary of the New Rights Party, Pruidze acts as the party’s official liaison with the press and diplomatic community. The party is currently focused on persuading President Mikhail Saakashvilli to agree to early elections—an effort Pruidze is helping lead as the party works to convince foreign governments to lend increased international support to Georgia’s democratic movement.
Todd Rogers 31, Democrat
Todd Rogers didn’t think much of the GOP’s attempts to paint candidate Obama as an Ivy League elitist. Then again, Rogers has a Ph.D. from Harvard—and he’s working to merge politics and science.
After completing his dissertation, Rogers planned on a teaching career—but then progressive leaders recruited him to Washington. He’s now the founding executive director of the Analyst Institute, which uses the tools of behavioral science to help progressive groups increase the impact of their voter contact. His research has shown, for example, that positive messaging about how everyone else is voting is a better GOTV tactic than emphasizing the perils of a low turnout. “I think that’s transformative—not having to rely on intuition and collective wisdom,” Rogers says. “We actually have the capacity to test our assumptions now.” Thanks to books like Nudge and Predictably Irrational, behavioral science has hit the public consciousness. It’s hit the president’s consciousness, too: The Consortium of Behavioral Sciences, a semi-secret association of 29 scientific luminaries, has been helping the White House shape policy. Rogers is the group’s associate director.
Rogers says anti-science politicians should take note: The group—all progressives—has no plans to stop soon. “There’s lots more to learn,” says Rogers. “So many open questions still remain.”
Jordi Segarra 30, Nonpartisan
At 25, Jordi Segarra didn’t know he was the youngest campaign manager for a national European party until another consultant told him. He just gets things done young—at 19, he was already in charge of a newsmagazine.
Now his consulting firm, SEGARRATERES, has 17 full-time employees and offices in Andorra and Spain. Segarra has led campaigns all over Europe and South America. This year he published his first book, Yes YOU Can: Building the Perfect Candidate, which shows Obama-crazed Europeans how to adopt the latest campaign tools while adapting them to a different political system.
For his next act, Segarra is expanding to America.
At a planned office in Miami, SEGARRATERES hopes to target Latino voters, one of the country’s fastest growing demographics. It won’t be his first experience here. This fall, he worked with Obama’s field team in Colorado, refining his understanding of his specialty, grassroots. Segarra, a board director of the European Association of Political Consultants, hopes to bring his group closer to its American counterpart—and both sides have a lot to learn. “Definitely American consultants are more effective in organizing,” he says. “But we are more creative in how we graphically show our campaigns.”
Tom Serres 27, Nonpartisan
Tom Serres is a big believer in the long tail of politics. That’s why he created Piryx, a universal software program aimed at giving the little guys of the political world online tools without having to fork over the big bucks. “For the small campaign with a small budget,” says Serres, “the cost of hiring a consultant to custom-build an online donation system or a social network is prohibitive.” Serres says the need to “democratize” the campaign process was apparent to him at the first campaign he ever worked, a county judicial race in Texas. Before developing Piryx, Serres formed an online company and started selling software packages to state and congressional races. But local candidates on smaller races couldn’t afford the product. “I decided that what I really wanted to do was empower more people with the opportunity to effectuate change,” he says. So last year Serres founded Piryx and developed a platform to help smaller campaigns do just that. With Serres’ platform, a campaign can set up an online fundraising page, streamline compliance and build a robust social network.
Tanya Tarr 29, Democrat
As a college senior, Tanya Tarr was given the opportunity of a lifetime—she would introduce Vice President Al Gore at a campaign rally on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University. “I think I threw up about three times before I took the stage,” she recalls with a laugh. Tarr not only played a key role in organizing the event, but she helped turn out thousands of her fellow students. The result was a job offer on the Gore campaign. Tarr has since worked races from New York to Virginia, including stints at the Democratic National Committee and the AFL-CIO, where she managed a nationwide field and phone program. Now, as political research analyst at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Tarr manages AFSCME’s data, targeting and advocacy operations. “Tanya has worked behind the scenes on many successful advocacy and electoral efforts,” says Julie Germany, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet. “In many cases, hers has been the unseen hand behind field-organizing successes.” The two worked together closely this past April, organizing the largest and best-attended Politics Online conference to date. “Some people scuba-dive, jump out of planes or gamble,” says Tarr. “I get people elected. At the end of the day, we’re all adrenaline junkies, I’m just a nerdier one.”
Ryan Waite 31, Republican
Just a few years ago, Ryan Waite was feeling his way through the online advertising world. “I specifically got interested in the ads because it was a new area and started teaching myself all about it,” Waite says. “Some of the first banner ads we ever ran, I did on my own, teaching myself how to do them.” By 2008, Connell Donatelli, where Waite is a vice president, was handling online ads for the McCain campaign and winning awards for their work.
“The great thing about online advertising in the political realm is that it’s just evolving so rapidly and there’s so much going on,” Waite says. “I’ve been surprised at developments that have happened even since the last campaign.”
The next step, Waite says, is take the lessons of the 2008 presidential contest and give the same online presence to local campaigns with a service called NextDoor Politics of which he is the president.
“We saw that search engine marketing was so effective at doing the things that campaigns want to do,” Waite says. “We wanted to be able to take that and apply it to lower-level campaigns. This is something that fits really well with somebody who’s running for the city council or the state legislature.”
Brian Williams 28, Nonpartisan
Working at Aristotle combines two of Brian Williams’s long-time passions. “I was a nerd back in high school and junior high who used to program my computer and watch C-Span at the same time,” Williams says.
He came to the u%u0308ber-connected political technology firm via West Point, the Speaker’s office and races across the country— all before turning 30. Today, he’s vice president in charge of product design and strategy and a member of the Aristotle’s senior leadership team.
“He’s done just about every job there is to do, and excelled in every case—client services, marketing, and now overseeing the programmers and testers for company’s flagship 360 product,” says company founder John Aristotle Phillips. That latest innovation for Aristotle aims to pull all the voter data and regulatory compliance information together for a campaign. “He’s obviously super smart, but stands out in the Washington crowd as he doesn’t feel as if he has to impress with his intelligence,” Phillips says.
Williams says balancing new technologies for clients from across the political spectrum and across the globe keeps him on his toes.
“The idea behind it is that we provide the underlying data,” Williams says, and from there it’s “let the best man win.”
Rising Stars 2009
Each year, Politics magazine asks our readers to name the political world's young stars....
Each year, Politics magazine asks our readers to name the political world's young stars. Out of hundreds of nominees, these 27 individuals shone the brightest.