Rory Cooper, 34, Republican
Director of Communications, The Heritage Foundation
Inspired by Ronald Reagan while growing up outside Detroit, Rory Cooper started volunteering on campaigns for state representative and congressional candidates while still in high school. He loved getting out there, knocking on people’s doors, and debating policy. By the time he was studying political science at Tulane, Cooper says, “It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would eventually come to Washington to work in policy and politics.”
He reported for duty at the NRCC a month or so after graduation and has remained ever since—save for a five-month stint in Missouri with the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. He spent over seven years in the Bush White House, including work on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Since 2008, he has been at the Heritage Foundation, where he is charged with expanding and sharpening the think tank’s use of social media.
“We can have 300,000-plus Facebook fans, but if we’re not communicating with them and we’re not giving different opportunities, then we’re not doing it right,” he says. “We need to make sure that we’re not just paying attention to a routine beat reporter who’s been covering the same issue for twenty years, but also to a blogger in Texas who has a great deal of influence with the Tea Party who really cares about the weeds of an issue.”
As a matter of fact, the Heritage Foundation has well over 300,000 Facebook fans, not to mention over 100,000 Twitter followers and 185,000 subscribers to its morning e-newsletter—all testaments to Cooper’s efforts. And those aren’t just numbers. Cooper’s deep experience in both the policy and communications worlds allows him to package issues in a way that has had a significant impact on the way conservatives have debated policy over the last few years, from healthcare reform to the economy.
Nick Everhart, 31, Republican
Founder and President, Strategic Media Placement, Inc.
As the head of the media-buying arm of the Strategy Group for Media, Nick Everhart is an expert at squeezing out the most message in exchange for the fewest dollars on behalf of the firm’s clients.
“We do the hard work to clear every spot at the lowest cost possible to ensure we have money to do more messaging later,” he says. “We keep up with folks that might spend more money by finding a way to get as many points as possible out of what we spend simply because we put more sweat equity into it.”
Last year, Everhart’s efforts helped Mike Fitzpatrick reclaim the Pennsylvania congressional seat he had lost four years earlier to Patrick Murphy, despite being outspent by more than two to one. This was just one of the firm’s victories in a banner 2010, when it helped non-incumbents win thirteen other U.S. House seats, two U.S. Senate seats, and one governorship. It also helped flip legislative houses in several states.
In addition to media buying and planning, Everhart develops his own ad campaigns, directs shoots, and edits television and radio spots. In 2009, he handled both media buying and creative duties on the successful Ohio Issue 3 campaign, which legalized gambling, after several similar efforts had failed.
“I am at an intersection between production and ad creation, which is an art, and media buying and planning, which is more of a science,” says Everhart. “I get to make sure both sides of the coin are getting the proper attention and that they are working hand in hand.”
Mark Harris, 26, Republican
Managing Partner, Cold Spark Media
Just a few years after serving as a volunteer student organizer on Pat Toomey’s 2004 Pennsylvania Senate primary campaign, Mark Harris landed his dream job as campaign manager on Toomey’s repeat run in 2010. In guiding the conservative Toomey to a narrow win in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by over a million, Harris earned plaudits for running an extremely effective operation.
The key, according to the western Pennsylvania native, was doggedly sticking to the same message from the beginning of the campaign, when few thought Toomey had a hope, to the end, when the race drew nationwide attention. That message: “Pat Toomey is a thoughtful conservative who will oppose the runaway spending and poor fiscal decision-making in Washington,” says Harris.
Between his work on Toomey’s two Senate campaigns, Harris managed the 2008 congressional campaign of Chris Hackett, who beat a party-picked candidate, but lost the general election. Two years earlier, Harris ran for state House himself, knocking off a ten-year incumbent in the primary, but also losing in the general.
“I made every mistake in the book in that race—trying to manage the race too much myself, spending too much on things that aren’t paid media, all sorts of things I now tell my clients not to do,” Harris says. “Having been in their position before gives me some credibility, but also helps me as an operative. I can better serve the people I work for because I have been in their shoes.”
Early this year, preferring to remain in Pennsylvania rather than relocate to Washington, Harris launched his own consulting firm, Cold Spark Media, just outside the state capital, Harrisburg.
Rachel Hillerman, 23, Republican
Vice President of Political Affairs, LVH Consulting
Just two years out of college, Rachel Hillerman has already established herself as a truly formidable fundraiser. She led fundraising efforts on Kelly Ayotte’s successful 2010 New Hampshire campaign for U.S. Senate, a position she took on just four months after starting with LVH Consulting as an assistant. In all during the 2010 cycle, she brought in $8 million for winning Senate candidates, including Ayotte, Pat Toomey, and Dan Coats.
So how does a recent college grad in her first job end up as lead fundraiser on a major U.S. Senate race? “I was very careful about showing interest,” says Hillerman. “As soon as I got the opportunity, I went into it with an attitude like I have to try to do anything I possibly can to raise the money that this woman needs to succeed. It was just a take-no-prisoners attitude.”
Before turning her ambitions to political fundraising, Hillerman aspired to work in television. Even during a college internship on the CBS reality show Greatest American Dog, she demonstrated the initiative that has paid off in her current career. “No matter what anybody asked me to do, I was always happy to do it and did it with a skip,” she says. “I think that’s something that definitely carried through.”
Now, she is applying her talents to help make Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel that state’s next senator.
Bob Honold, 31, Republican
President, Honold Communications / Partner, Revolution Agency
Lionized by his colleagues as a tenacious and crafty campaigner, Bob Honold allows that he prefers a tough fight to an easy one. “It would be great to be a consultant in Texas or Alabama where it is abnormal for a Democrat to win statewide,” he says. “My niche has always been winning in the dogfights.”
At the beginning of the 2010 cycle, when Honold served as New York State director for the NRCC, Republicans held just two of the state’s twenty-nine U.S. House seats. When the dust from the election had settled, they had flipped six seats, more than in any other state. It is feats like this that have led NRCC Chair Pete Sessions to call Honold a “star Republican operative” and political analyst Stuart Rothenberg to call him “extremely talented.”
During the 2008 cycle, when Honold came to the NRCC as incumbent retention director, he designed the Patriot Program, which revolutionized how the organization protected its sitting members. The program encouraged incumbents to amass campaign war chests early to scare off top-tier challengers.
In January, Honold started his own firm, Honold Communications, which does general consulting for candidates and think tanks. He is also a partner with Revolution Agency, where he works with a variety of private companies. “We are a political SWAT team for advocacy, association, and corporate interests,” says Honold. “Then we also do political campaigns.”
Jackie Huelbig, 27, Republican
Senior Director, Connell Donatelli, Inc.
Jackie Huelbig got her start in online advertising while still in college. As an intern with Harrisdirect, the direct brokerage firm, she worked on campaigns for websites such as NYTimes.com and CNNMoney.com that yielded billions of annual impressions. After graduation, she headed to Connell Donatelli to put her skills to work for Republican politicians and conservative causes.
Just two years into her political career, at the age of twenty-three, she ran online marketing for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and coordinated online advertising for California’s “Yes on Prop 8” campaign, the largest online ballot campaign to date. In 2010, she performed the same role on Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in re-election campaign, the first successful senatorial write-in campaign in over fifty years.
Huelbig sees her work in politics as a natural extension of her early work in commercial advertising. “The way I look at it, all of these campaigns, whether it is a proposition campaign in California or the McCain for president campaign, these are my products,” she says. “I have to do what I can to make them successful in the eyes of the voters.”
Indeed, there is little question that she has found success as an instrumental player in Republican online marketing, having worked for an extensive list of marquee clients, including the RNC, the NRSC, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Mike Pence, and Sen. Mark Kirk.
Her latest project: offering her online advertising talents to smaller political campaigns as marketing director of NextDoor Politics, a company associated with Connell Donatelli, where she continues to shoulder significant responsibility as senior director.
Matt Mackowiak, 31, Republican
President, Potomac Strategy Group, LLC
Prolific is one way to describe Matt Mackowiak. Ubiquitous might be another. He is the owner and operator of PotomacFlacks.com, a popular blog that keeps tabs on spokespeople for politicians and bureaucrats. He regularly provides political analysis as a guest on cable news, a source to journalists across the country, and in his own opinion pieces. All that, and he still finds time to work with political and corporate clients as president and founder of his consulting firm, Potomac Strategy Group.
The last few years have been particularly busy for Mackowiak. He was Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell’s senior communications advisor for the 2011 legislative session and continues to advise him. In 2010, he left D.C. to return to central Texas to manage the congressional campaign of Bill Flores. Flores went on to unseat ten-term Texas Congressman Chet Edwards by 25 points, the largest Republican margin of victory over an incumbent Democrat in 2010.
Mackowiak’s original ambition was to be a press secretary on Capitol Hill, a role he filled for former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), but he has discovered that his true passion is for running campaigns. “Campaigns are more what I’m wired for,” he says. “They are tough and they ask a lot of you and require a full commitment.”
Prior to his work with Flores, Mackowiak managed Iowa’s second largest county on the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and worked in White House advance. Now his goal is to counsel candidates as a general consultant, overseeing congressional races nationwide.
Brock McCleary, 35, Republican
Deputy Political Director, National Republican Congressional Committee
T he power of politics became apparent to Brock McCleary at a very early age. He was a sixth grader, and his parents, strong supporters of Rep. Dick Gephardt’s 1988 presidential bid, took him to see the candidate speak. “I saw a room full of people who could be energized and excited to follow someone with this ability to inspire something greater than themselves,” says McCleary.
As McCleary grew up, he drifted away from his Democratic roots and was increasingly attracted to the Republican philosophy of limited government. After college, during which he was elected chairman of the Pennsylvania College Republicans, he spent a year and a half with the Republican consulting firm Revolution Agency, where he focused on challenging the party’s status quo with outsider candidates.
One of these was Bret Schundler, who soundly defeated a party-favored candidate in the 2001 New Jersey gubernatorial primary. Schundler lost the general election, but the experience fundamentally altered McCleary’s approach to politics. “No one is ever going to give you anything,” he says. “You have to take it if you want it.”
After a stint as communications director for Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Mc- Cleary joined the NRCC in late 2009. He served as the organization’s Northeast political director for the 2010 cycle, during which he delighted as the party establishment came to him rather than the other way around. Even better was Election Day, when the states overseen by McCleary sent fourteen new Republican representatives to the U.S. House. “I don’t know that for the rest of my career I’ll have a feeling like I had then,” he says.
Scott Schweitzer, 35, Republican
Partner, The Strategy Group for Media
While growing up in Cincinnati, Scott Schweitzer received an AM radio for his sixth birthday. He would listen to Reds games in bed, but once the baseball season was over, he found himself falling asleep to talk radio. Before long, he was hooked. “I joke that I was indoctrinated at a young age by conservative talk radio,” he says.
Fast forward three decades, and Schweitzer is a key player at the Strategy Group for Media, one of the most successful Republican media firms in the country. In recent years, the Ohio-based outfit has won armfuls of awards and, in 2010 alone, helped non-incumbent Republicans win fourteen U.S. House seats, two U.S. Senate seats, and a governorship—and helped flip several state legislatures.
Schweitzer, who has been with the firm for over a decade, oversees all of its post-production and manages in addition to write, shoot, direct, and produce ads as well as supervise message strategy for clients such as U.S. Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) and Jeff
Duncan (R-SC). Among the secrets to the firm’s success, he singles out its commitment to working only with clients for whom it has a true passion and the quality control that comes with doing everything under the same roof.
“We have in-house media buying, in-house production, in-house creative—so we don’t have to go down the street to cut an ad,” he says. “I can lean out my door, and if I get the right spin on a tennis ball, I can throw it into an edit suite.”
In the ads he produces himself, Schweitzer aims “to convey somebody’s heart to voters and to show who they really are, what their passions are.” Based on his results, he appears to be succeeding.
BryanSanders, 27, Republican
Partner, Dresner Wickers Barber Sanders
A native of Kansas, Bryan Sanders started his career as a staffer for his home-state senator, Sam Brownback, but has rapidly become an influential player in Republican politics across the country.
After handling media relations as a press assistant for Brownback on the U.S. Congress
Joint Economic Committee, Sanders went to work on the former senator’s 2008 presidential campaign. When it fizzled out, he traveled to Iowa to volunteer on Mike Huckabee’s campaign.
Sanders not only earned a spot on the Huckabee campaign staff, he also met his future wife: Huckabee’s daughter, Sarah. When asked about his favorite campaign memory, Sanders quickly replies, “I’d be in the doghouse if I didn’t say my fondest memory was meeting my wife during the campaign for president.”
In early 2009, Sanders joined the Republican consulting firm Dresner Wickers & Associates. Now a partner with the firm, renamed Dresner Wickers Barber Sanders, he manages its Little Rock office and specializes in polling, focus group research, and media production and placement.
In the 2010 cycle, Sanders managed Robert Bentley’s primary runoff campaign for Alabama governor and then served as a general consultant, media consultant, and pollster on Bentley’s successful general election campaign. Having worked as well for Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, and Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, Sanders has amassed a world of campaign experience long before his thirtieth birthday. Expect to see his name often in the years to come.
Jen Stolp, 29, Republican
Vice President of Fundraising, Campaign Solutions
By any measure, Jen Stolp’s achievements in online fundraising are impressive. There is the $3 million she raised for Rep. Michele Bachmann’s re-election campaign and PAC in just three months in 2010; the $5 million her team raised online for Carly Fiorina’s California Senate run the same year—some 40 percent of the campaign’s total donations; and the $100 million she helped raise as one of the lead online fundraising consultants to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Behind these numbers lies a great deal of hard work and institutional knowledge built up by the entire team at Campaign Solutions, one of the first and still among the best online fundraising firms in the country. “Campaign Solutions has been in business for over a decade,” says Stolp, “and we have spent that time tweaking little things that may seem very trivial to the average person who is looking at a donation page or reading an e-mail, but really help boost overall results.”
Among the secrets of online fundraising that Stolp is willing to share: Get all the necessary information onto a single donation page on your website. It’s important to remember that people who donate online tend to be motivated by passionate support for a candidate (or against their opponent) and you lose a significant portion of potential donors with each extra required click. “We want to make it as easy as possible!” Stolp says. If you want to find out more, you’ll have to hire her.
Erik Telford, 27, Republican
Director of Membership and Online Strategy, Americans for Prosperity
In his brief career, Erik Telford has helped the right catch up with the left in terms of online activism, helped lay the groundwork for the emergence of the Tea Party, and helped establish Americans for Prosperity (AFP) as one of the country’s premier conservative activist organizations.
A few numbers sketch out the story: When Telford joined AFP in 2007, the group had around 200,000 members; today, that total has ballooned to 1.7 million, in no small part due to his efforts. He has tirelessly traversed the country, attended conferences, done interviews, and met with individual activists. Setting up sites like NoStimulus.com, which drew massive amounts of traffic and helped double AFP’s membership in a single month, hasn’t hurt either.
Among his roles is heading up AFP’s RightOnline, an annual conference that aims to advance online advocacy efforts by conservative-leaning bloggers and organizations. RightOnline was designed as the Republican equivalent of NetRoots and now rivals the progressive blogger convention in attendance. “We took on NetRoots as a rallying point and also to generate some earned media coverage on this left-versus-right media confrontation,” says Telford.
Telford’s family owned a restaurant and hotel business when he was growing up in Connecticut, and he says that their focus on developing relationships with customers heavily influences how he interacts with activists. As for how he got interested in politics, that is a mystery. “I was a political junkie from the second grade,” he recalls. “My family couldn’t figure out where it came from.”
Nicholas Thompson, 32, Republican
Vice President, The Tarrance Group
A Mississippi native, Nicholas Thompson cut his teeth as a field staffer on Haley Barbour’s 2003 gubernatorial campaign and found that he had an affinity for data and metrics. Thus, a successful career as a pollster was born.
Thompson credits Barbour’s nephew and campaign manager, Henry Barbour, for piquing his interest in the application of polling data to messaging and its potential for changing a campaign’s dynamics. “I was amazed at how much research, metrics, and data went into campaigning,” Thompson recalls. “What I like about it is the study of human behavior. Polling is more than just numbers; it is seeing how people are behaving.”
Thompson first joined the Tarrance Group in 2004 as a research analyst, but left the next year to serve as director of research and direct mail for the NRCC’s independent expenditure program in the 2006 cycle. He went on to direct the Bush White House’s polling and to manage a twelve-state region in its Office of Political Affairs.
In 2009, Thompson returned to the Tarrance Group, where he works with campaign consultants nationwide to refine messaging and fine-tune targeting on domestic issues such as government spending, immigration, and national security. In 2010, his achievements included helping to defeat Democrat Blanche Lincoln and Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist in U.S. Senate races, but Thompson was most proud of helping to orchestrate a win over eleven-term Congressman Gene Taylor back in his home state of Mississippi.
Trebor Worthen, 31, Republican
Managing Partner, Majority Designs
Trebor Worthen is one of the few political operatives who can rightly boast that they have been helping win campaigns since the age of six. As a first grader when his father ran for a seat in the Oklahoma state House, young Trebor dutifully wore a “Vote for My
Dad” T-shirt while campaigning door-to-door. His father won the election.
After finishing college in 2001, Worthen got his first paid political job with an Oklahoma state Senate campaign. Impressed by his work, the state Republican Party took him on as a field representative and rapidly promoted him to state political director.
In 2004, Worthen ran for the state House seat formerly held by his father—and won. While serving in the House, he launched Majority Designs, a direct mail consulting firm, with two other campaign operatives. At the end of his second term in 2008, Worthen retired from his promising career as an elected official to become a full-time consultant.
“I just had to make a decision,” he says. “I couldn’t continue to split my time between things that deserve all my time and attention.”
Today, Worthen says that his most cherished campaign memory comes not from his own victories, but from the 2007 special election win he engineered for U.S. Rep. Bob Latta in northwest Ohio.
“That was the first campaign I had a significant role in, outside of Oklahoma, and it was a great experience,” he says. “Those few months that we spent literally working our tails off and sleeping on air mattresses in Bob’s old house are among my fondest campaign memories right there.”