The political consulting world is evolving and a new generation is emerging. From campaigners focused on the developing craft of data-driven politics to managers rising through the ranks the old fashioned way, we’re confident the 30 operatives who make up C&E's 2012 class of Rising Stars will have a lasting impact on the campaign world.

At C&E, we're particularly proud of our rich history of identifying the future of the industry. Since 1988, C&E has recognized up-and-coming political professionals who have made an early mark on the campaign world with this award. Over the years, our Rising Stars have gone on to serve at the highest levels of government and political consulting. Among the inaugural class: David Axelrod, James Carville, Alex Castellanos and Mike Murphy. 

C&E is proud to present the 2012 class of Rising Stars:

Kellen Arno, 30, Nonpartisan

National Field Director, Americans Elect

Kellen Arno’s interest in politics was stoked at a young age as he grew up working around his father’s office as a kid—Michael Arno heads Arno Political Consultants. After some early exposure to the campaign world, Kellen went on to study history at the University of California, Davis. Today, he’s the field director for Arno Political Consultants and has played a key role in the success of Americans Elect this cycle.

As the group’s field director, Arno helped Americans Elect secure a ballot line in all 50 states. The group plans on holding an online nominating process and putting forth a presidential candidate this fall. Arno’s main work includes navigating election laws and ballot access rules. Arno led the creation of the Americans Elect team of volunteer and paid leaders throughout the country and on hundreds of college campuses through network-driven tactics and social media outreach.

“I’m really working on building a base of volunteers who are passionate and utilizing that community,” says Arno. “We currently have about 3,000 nationwide.” It helped Americans Elect earn the People’s Choice Award earlier this year at SXSW. “Kellen Arno isn’t just a Rising Star, he’s a blazing comet,” boasts Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, who has worked with Arno on the Americans Elect effort.

Along with his stateside work at Arno Political Consultants over the past eight years, Arno has managed GOTV and voter outreach programs in Latin America and Europe. Heading up the Americans Elect team in California, Arno helped gather 1.65 million signatures to ensure ballot access for the state come November. It set a record for most signatures gathered in California for ballot access and has only been done once before in the state’s history.

Ginny Badanes, 30, Republican

Political Director, CMDI

Ginny Badanes found her political interest sparked as a student studying political science at Duke University. She started out a psychology major, but soon shifted to politics and never looked back. Right out of college, Badanes landed at CMDI, where she assisted with compliance for the Bush-Cheney 2004 reelection effort.

For the past eight years, Badanes has worked her way up through the ranks at CMDI, which offers campaigns and political committees a suite of software solutions to help increase their fundraising potential. Badanes now directs the political department at CMDI where the firm’s principals give her credit for strengthening the company’s reputation with its client base and bringing CMDI out from behind the curtain and into the larger community of Republican campaigns.

“We have a high retention rate here,” Badanes says of her company, “particularly in campaigns. It was a small company when I started here. When I started, the Bush-Cheney campaign was the only full service campaign client we had.” Most recently, Badanes oversaw the development and launch of the company’s Crimson CRM platform, which has been deployed by five presidential campaigns, three national party committees and more than 20 Senate campaigns.

Kellee Barron-Lanza, 33, Republican

Vice President, Jackson Alvarez Group

Rarely do you find a five year old as interested in politics as Kellee Barron-Lanza was when she was a kid. “Everyone always grows up thinking of Hollywood or business having all the power, but I always thought about the people who make the laws,” says Barron-Lanza. Her first real exposure to the campaign world came in 1998 when she was just a sophomore in college. Lanza volunteered on Phil Hawkins’ State Assembly race in California. Shortly after that race, Barron-Lanza took an internship with California Rep. Ed Royce, and later worked as staff assistant to former Rep. Chris Cox.

While pursuing a degree in political science at California State University Long Beach, she continued working as a staff assistant for California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, and before long discovered an interest in political research. In 2008, Barron-Lanza began work at MB Public Affairs as a research associate. And since 2011, Barron-Lanza has served as vice president of the Jackson Alvarez group where she puts her research expertise and passion for politics to work for Republican candidates all across the country. She’s also learning the art of opposition research from one of the best in the business—longtime researcher Gary Maloney.

Barron-Lanza’s work helped Mississippi Republicans defeat seven incumbent Democrats this past year, giving Republicans control of the Mississippi State House. She also played a role in the GOP takeover of the Virginia State Senate when her research helped Bill Stanley defeat Roscoe Reynolds, one of two incumbent Democratic state senators to lose that year. When Barron-Lanza made the move from MB Public Affairs in Sacramento, Calif. to the Jackson-Alvarez Group in Washington, several of her clients followed.

Barron-Lanza’s advice to young operatives looking to make their mark: “Just don’t get discouraged, and take advantage of every opportunity.”

Bradley Beychok, 30, Democrat

Campaign Director, American Bridge 21st Century

It was 2003 and Bradley Beychok was sitting in the backseat of an Orange Honda Element behind Mary Matalin and James Carville on the way to an event in Georgetown. He asked Carville, who he was interning for at the time, about a reference letter for grad school. Beychok wanted to do a campaign management program. Carville said he was happy to write the letter but Matalin scoffed, Beychok remembers.

To be successful in politics, she said, “you’re either brilliant like my husband, or you go do every job in a campaign.” And so the boy from Louisiana returned home to follow Matalin’s advice. Beychok worked as a finance director on former Rep. Charlie Melancon’s first House race. Beychok later served as Melancon’s campaign manager. In 2008, he served as coordinated campaign director for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

After that, Melancon trusted him enough to manage the toughest race of his career—his 2010 challenge to Sen. David Vitter (R). Beychok helped him keep it close during a tough year for Democrats, particularly in the South. “It was one of those campaigns that you wake up saying, ‘I want to swing as hard as I can,’” says Beychok. Fast forward to 2012 and Beychok is at the helm of American Bridge, a progressive Super PAC that employs over 50 people. “I certainly owe a great deal of my path in politics to James,” he says.

Carville, meanwhile, praised Beychok’s willingness to take on challenges. “Bradley learned the hard way,” says Carville. “[He’s] quickly worked his way from my intern to one of the most sought after operatives in Washington, D.C.”

Jennifer Beytin, 33, Democrat

Creative Director, Beytin Agency

At the Beytin Agency, it’s Jennifer Beytin who’s the creative force behind much of the firm’s direct mail work. For the past decade, Beytin has designed winning mail programs for a host of competitive state and federal campaigns, including a slew of issue groups and nonprofits. “I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve had the chance to work with some really great consultants in the field,” says Beytin, whose direct mail and creative resume is an impressive one. Prior to serving as partner and creative director at the Beytin Agency, she worked at The New Media Firm, was a senior associate at Murphy Putnam Media, and worked at the direct mail firm Kennedy Communications.

When her husband, Aaron, decided to start his own direct mail firm, Beytin says it only made sense to join forces in business, too. So she left The New Media Firm to become partner and creative director at the Beytin Agency. “Aaron was looking for a creative partner and it just worked,” says Beytin.

Having worked in both mail and media firms, Beytin says it was the targetability of direct mail that eventually drew her to the specialty. “Based on sound research, you can create compelling messages that really resonate with voters,” she says.

One of Beytin’s favorite mail pieces is the one she designed for Adam Taliaferro, a candidate for Gloucester County Freeholder in New Jersey. Taliaferro was a football star at Penn State who overcame a paralyzing injury, and eventually learned to walk again. “Adam was determined to prove the doctors wrong,” part of the mailer read. “After months of excruciating therapy and hard work, he slowly regained control over his limbs and his life.”

Jon Black, 31, Republican

Research Director, National Republican Congressional Committee

One of the most rewarding parts of the job for Jon Black, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s research director, is when a potential opponent gets wind of a piece of oppo he’s uncovering and ends their campaign before it even starts. “That’s happened a few times,” says Black. “It’s always fun.”

Black got his start in the campaign world as a volunteer back in Salt Lake City, Utah during the 2002 cycle. Black worked that year for Republican John Swallow, who was running against Rep. Jim Matheson in what turned out to be one of the closest races of the cycle. Two years later, Swallow ran against Matheson again and Black served as the campaign’s political director. This time the loss came by a slightly larger margin, but it led to Black finding his way to Capitol Hill where after a year as a legislative aide he came upon an opening in the research department at the NRCC. After a stint in the research department at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Black returned to the NRCC, this time as the committee’s research director.

Now, research may be Jon Black’s life, but he admits that it wasn’t always his first interest. “I don’t know if anyone really goes into politics thinking they want to do research,” says Black. “It’s kind of the offensive line of politics. Nobody cares about you until you make a mistake.” For Black, 2010 was the crowning achievement by far. House Republicans defeated more than 60 Democratic incumbents and took back control of the lower chamber in historic fashion. “It’s great to see your research hit, especially when Democrats aren’t expecting it,” says Black. “We had a lot of that in 2010.”

Robert Blizzard, 28, Republican

Vice President, Public Opinion Strategies

Robert Blizzard started his political career young. His dad worked for Ronald Reagan so a career in Republican politics was in the cards. As an undergrad at Clemson University, Blizzard landed an internship at the Republican polling giant Public Opinion Strategies (POS). After graduating a year early, he spent some more time at POS before a two-year stint at a Minnesota energy company—two years that convinced him he really wanted to be back in the campaign business. Shortly thereafter, Blizzard returned to POS for good. “I’m happy to still be doing what I’m doing now,” says Blizzard, who started as a senior project director at POS. He now serves as vice president and works with some of the firm’s top clients cycle to cycle.

In 2006, one of the worst years for Republicans in a generation, Blizzard served on the polling team in a handful of winning U.S. Senate races, and directed polling efforts for Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. That year Heineman won a tough primary against then-Rep. Tom Osbourne, a legendary former Nebraska football coach. Overall that year, POS managed wins in four Senate races and six gubernatorial contests. This cycle, Blizzard is polling for a handful of targeted Congressional contests, including Josh Mandel’s Senate campaign in Ohio.

Megan Cellucci, 27, Nonpartisan

Senior Digital Strategist, CampaignGrid

Megan Cellucci has exactly what it takes to succeed in the world of online advertising, say her colleagues: work ethic, intelligence, and a knack for targeting. As senior digital strategist at CampaignGrid, Cellucci has managed online strategy for more than 100 different political, franking, commercial and advocacy campaigns over the past two years and is helping train the political world’s ever-growing number of digital campaign strategists.

For Cellucci, the best part of her current job is the variety and the sheer number of campaigns she’s able to be a part of. “It certainly helps to be able to manage,” she says. “And it’s rewarding to be working on something that has such a major impact.” Cellucci grew up in the Philadelphian suburbs before heading to Washington to pursue a marketing degree at Georgetown University. After graduation, Cellucci worked as a manager at AOL before joining CampaignGrid as an online campaign manager.

In addition to international work in Canada, Cellucci’s clients have included more than 20 Senate and Congressional campaigns, and at least one presidential effort. “Her staff relies on her for constant training, client management, and overall leadership,” says Jordan Lieberman, CampaignGrid’s managing director. When one of the firm’s nonprofit clients recently approached her at 10 p.m. requesting the launch of an online program as quickly as possible, Cellucci worked through the night and had the program up and running by daybreak.

Scott Fairchild, 34, Democrat

National Campaign Director, League of Conservation Voters

A few years ago, Rahm Emanuel got to know Scott Fairchild from his work on House races. Fairchild had managed, and won, races for Reps. Bill Foster in Illinois and Patrick Murphy in Pennsylvania around the time Emanuel headed the DCCC. Those victories in tough districts impressed Emanuel. When he left the White House to run for mayor of Chicago in fall 2010, Emanuel asked Fairchild to manage his campaign. Fairchild had just one condition for the famously pugnacious congressman: he wanted to bring Bristol, his beloved German Shepherd- Greyhound mix, to the Chicago campaign office. The candidate agreed.

At the time, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion Emanuel would win the race. “Once he got over his shyness, he became a great candidate,” Fairchild jokes. Emanuel, meanwhile, calls Fairchild the “rare manager whose composure is matched by his diligence.” The campaign kept a relentless focus on grassroots organizing. They brought the candidate through all the city’s 50 wards in 50 hours. Emanuel hit the morning and evening rushes at the L stops, a tradition maintained from his congressional races. Fairchild, Emanuel tells C&E, “inspires respect and admiration from his team and his track record demonstrates that he’s an excellent manager.”

Fairchild’s strategy in Chicago was drawn from his experience on Tim Kaine’s 2005 gubernatorial campaign in Virginia and from managing Robert Baines’ mayoral bid in Manchester, N.H. in 2003. “I got to learn a lot about how to get TV ads together, how to get the mail working,” he says. “You really get to learn constituency politics [on mayoral races], which I really enjoy.”

Fairchild has had campaigning in his blood since his first school board race in Washington, DC. His resume includes a long stint in New Hampshire and Ohio on Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign—after which he’d return home to Washington where he’d bartend at a spot on U Street until the next race. Fairchild’s not pouring pints anymore. He’s currently the national campaign director at the League of Conservation Voters. “LCV is a great place for me to grow,” he says. “I plan to stay here.”

Denise Feriozzi, 32, Democrat

Women Vote Director, EMILY’s List

Denise Feriozzi relishes the opportunity to help change the face of American politics. Growing up in New Jersey, where Christine Todd Whitman served as governor at the time, Feriozzi was inspired to increase female representation among the ranks of elected officials.

“I love that we are trying to increase the number of women in government,” Feriozzi says of her work at EMILY’s List. “There’s no better way to feel like you’re having an impact.” After graduating from the College of William and Mary with a degree in government, Feriozzi went to work at a lobbying firm and quickly realized a career on K Street wasn’t in her future. Wanting to “get her hands dirtier” on the campaign trail, Feriozzi went to work as field organizer for South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson’s 2002 Senate campaign, and felt much more at home. The following year, she joined EMILY’S List as Campaign Corps deputy director and recruiter. “She’s always on the cutting edge of new technologies and innovations in voter contact programs,” says Democratic strategist Martha McKenna who has worked with EMILY’s List.

Since first joining the organization, Feriozzi has held a number of different posts at EMILY’s List, which has allowed her to jump back and forth from the campaign trail in recent cycles. In 2008, Feriozzi served as the Iowa Caucus field director for then- Sen. Hillary Clinton. Back at EMILY’s List, Feriozzi now serves as the WOMEN VOTE director where she develops programs to persuade and mobilize female voters.

Jen Harrington, 29, Republican

Director of Special Projects, the Prosper Group

“I never thought I’d end up in politics,” Jen Harrington says with a laugh. The Nevada native was a classically trained pianist and grew up envisioning a career in business—one that would give her enough time to focus on music. But now, Harrington has her pick of consulting jobs in Washington.

Her career began on the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign in 2004. A stint as a field organizer led to jobs on then- Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) reelection campaign and Jim Gibbons’ successful gubernatorial run in the Silver State. A political appointment in the Department of Homeland Security followed, after which Harrington joined the White House’s political shop. As the Bush administration wound down, Harrington returned to Nevada to become vice president at j3 Strategies. And after the 2008 cycle, she was recruited to Wisconsin to help Republican lawmakers facing recall elections.

The race that really stands out for her, though, is a Las Vegas City council race she ran for Stavros Anthony in spring 2009. The LVPD officer was starved for cash after a poll showed him down 18 points six weeks before the vote. Harrington focused on building a turnout operation. Anthony ended up winning by 10 votes. “There is nothing better than the feel of managing a campaign—that’s what I love to do,” she says. “General consulting, that’s the closest I can get to it.”

Harrington hasn’t played the piano in public since her last recital when she was 18. Now, she settles for watching the action at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar when she’s back in Vegas. “The dream is to have a mini grand in the living room and shut everything out for a couple hours and play,” she says.

Vincent Harris, 24, Republican

President, Harris Media, LLC

Vincent Harris’ first political gig wasn’t a glamorous one. As a high school student in Northern Virginia, he would accompany former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) to parades—Harris was the guy who walked next to the congressman wearing an elephant costume. “I’d actually skip school to go to those parades with him dressed up as an elephant,” Harris recalls. Thankfully, his career has been on a steady rise ever since.

Harris launched a blog, TooConservative.com, which gained a following in Northern Virginia. At the age of 18, he decided to weigh in on the 2008 presidential race, endorsing Mike Huckabee long before anyone was paying attention to the former Arkansas governor. At that stage in the game, Huckabee was looking for press anywhere he could find it and the campaign gladly granted Harris an interview. About a month after the interview, Huckabee offered Harris a job. Harris served as an online staffer on the Huckabee effort. He dealt with bloggers and updated the campaign’s social media channels. At Harris’ urging, Huckabee’s campaign became the first GOP campaign to launch a Twitter account.

After the 2008 race, Harris worked as the new media director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the first part of 2009 before he left to start his own firm—Harris Media. The firm was behind the online campaign efforts of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Florida Gov. Rick Scott. This cycle, Harris’ firm worked for the presidential campaigns of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Harris has also worked overseas—most recently leading trainings in Egypt for the International Republican Institute.

“I was actually one of the first trainers IRI brought into Egypt,” says Harris. “To see that in action and to be a part of that—it was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life.”

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.”

Michael Moschella, 31, Democrat

Truman National Security Project

When Michael Moschella arrived at Cornell University, he picked up a copy of The Cornell Review and it practically got his blood boiling. “It was filled with all of this ridiculous stuff,” Moschella recalls. “And then I discovered that Ann Coulter had founded it.” It pushed Moschella toward helping rebuild the campus Democrats at Cornell, and he has been working on Democratic campaigns and causes ever since.

The encounter that really cemented Moschella’s desire to devote his career to politics—a meeting with then-Sen. Elect Hillary Clinton, who was on her thank you tour after winning her seat. Moschella had worked Tompkins County for Clinton—it was one of the few counties in the state she had won. Next up for Moschella was a gig on the gubernatorial campaign of Robert Reich in Massachusetts in 2002, followed by field work for a handful of congressional campaigns. After Sen. John Kerry lost in 2004, Moschella and a handful of other operatives began looking at just why it was so tough for Democrats to find post-campaign gigs.

“Republicans had created an amazing network to train their folks, so we wanted to change what we were doing,” he says. “We started to realize that [Democrats] really didn’t have a core base of people who understood national security and defense.” So in 2008, Moschella took over the political shop at the Truman National Security Project and began developing leadership and development training camps across the country. The organization trains staffers—from both sides of the aisle—all across the country on national security issues. He also founded the New Leaders Council (NLC), which now runs campaign training institutes everywhere from Iowa to San Francisco.

Casey Phillips, 31, Republican

Founder, RedPrint Strategies

Anne Crockett-Stark was just the scrappy, upstart challenger that Casey Phillips gravitated to early in his career. During her first race for the Virginia House of Delegates the flame-haired Republican, who boasted a distant relation to frontiersman Davy Crockett, was considered a long shot. “I totally threw everything I had into that race. I actually lived in a gas station,” says Phillips, chuckling. “An abandoned gas station.” The South Dakota native, who started in 2002 with Sen. John Thune, rolled into Wytheville in his sticker plastered Jeep Cherokee and got to work recruiting volunteers. At the time, Phillips’ bass player-length long hair was a hit at campus parities.

“We had a very robust GOTV effort,” he recalls. In the heart of Virginia coal country, Phillips helped put Crockett-Stark over the top. The victory was dubbed a “Southern Surprise” and earned Phillips some notoriety. In fact, it’s what got him hired to manage Van Taylor’s 2006 race against then-Waco Rep. Chet Edwards (D) in the Texas 17th.

The NRCC came calling after that. They wanted him for a senior field position, but didn’t have the budget to hire him until the following year. Instead of waiting by the phone, Phillips went south to Mississippi. There he took charge of Delbert Hosemann’s secretary of state campaign and took Hosemann from third place to first with a brilliant TV ad that featured an old lady sitting on a bench messing up the name Delbert. “It opened my eyes to the power of a really good, creative political ad,” he says.

Video production was something Phillips had an interest ever since “Dances with Wolves” was filmed near the century-old family ranch where he grew up. “One of my earliest memories is being on that set,” he says. “Fast forward 20 years and I go to work at the NRCC as a regional field director.” He worked the 2008 cycle as a kind of Mr. Wolf of the political world, standing up House challenger campaigns around the country. Two years later, he spent 200 nights on the road for state-level candidates on behalf of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

As Phillips moved to establish himself as a media consultant, many of those ambitious politicians became his clients. “I concentrate really hard on writing and producing top quality ads that tell a story,” he says. “Every time you do a good ad you get more phone calls.”

Justin Schuck, 31, Republican

President and Founder, Influential

Not too long ago Justin Schuck was having second thoughts about a career in politics. With a couple cycles under his belt, he’d landed gigs consulting for a few issue groups during the 2008 campaign. But post-Election Day, they evaporated and left him with tens of thousands of dollars in uncollectible bills. “That was kind of rough,” he says.

Schuck, who specializes in marketing, video production and website design, remembers thinking: “I can’t throw $60,000 down a hole every cycle.” So he moved to New York, began taking more corporate work and tried hard to forget the cash he’d been stiffed. Then, in 2010, the Republican Governors Association came calling. They’d seen Schuck’s portfolio on a design website and invited him to D.C. for an interview. Schuck, 31, went somewhat reluctantly. During the interview, he made it clear: he wasn’t some plaid-shirt-wearing, jean-clad tech kid who needed cash for pizza.

Paul Bennecke, then the RGA’s political director, recalls asking Schuck to come up with a website design concept in 48 hours. He came back with two—one of which the committee ended up using. “Justin demonstrated he was the person we were looking for,” Bennecke says. The experience at the RGA that cycle was so rewarding that Schuck shifted back into the political consulting world full-time, launching the politically focused boutique creative agency Influential. “It renewed my faith in the party,” he says. “It renewed my faith in politics.”

Regina Schwartz, 28, Democrat

Deputy Director, Analyst Institute

Regina Schwartz is at the heart of the evidence-based revolution in politics. As deputy director at the Analyst Institute, Schwartz schools progressive groups and campaign staffers on best practices based on the latest scientific testing. It’s an analytical trend that more and more campaigns and organizations are embracing with the Analyst Institute right on the cutting edge. \

“We’ve been able to help lots of different organizations spend their limited resources in a smart and effective way,” says Schwartz. “The goal is to help groups become better with every election cycle.” Schwartz has been with the Analyst Institute from its inception in 2007 after working as a regional field organizer on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) first congressional race, as well as union and campus organizing.

Following a stint as a staffer on Capitol Hill, Todd Rogers called Schwartz to see if she wanted to be his first hire at the Analyst Institute. “I really did enjoy being out in the field, but this was a great way to put my academic background to work,” says Schwartz, a Harvard graduate. She started as an analyst, and has worked her way up to the role of deputy director. In her time at the Analyst Institute, Schwartz honed the reputation of the organization’s training department, which helps build the data and analytical skills of progressive staffers across the country.

“A lot of groups in Washington have great data and analytical departments,” she says. “They’ve only grown and become stronger over the past couple of years using randomized experiments and employing best practices.”

Dylan Sharpe, 28, International

Communications Director, Countryside Alliance

Talk about a baptism by fire. Five years ago, Dylan Sharpe went from working as media officer in Britain’s Department of Education to working press for Boris Johnson—the closest thing the U.K. had to a celebrity candidate. On Johnson’s successful 2008 London mayoral campaign, Sharpe handled press inquiries and traveled with Johnson on campaign stops across London.

“We’d go and speak to University students in London and Boris would be mobbed afterwards,” recalls Sharpe. “I’d have to drag him out of crowds constantly. He was our Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Given Johnson’s background in television, questions about the candidate’s career and personal life were often more frequent than questions about his policy positions. For Sharpe, it hammered home the value of repetition, and of staying on message. “The press will always want to talk to you about something else,” he says. “But we stuck very rigidly to what he was going to do for London. It was a great lesson.”

After Johnson’s mayoral campaign, Sharpe went on to serve as campaign director for Big Brother Watch, a pressure group focused on civil liberties and privacy. Colleagues credit Sharpe for significantly raising the group’s profile and helping turn it into a leading voice on privacy. This past spring, Sharpe ran the press office for the No to AV campaign. The so-called alternative vote referendum would have altered the way U.K. voters elect MPs. During Sharpe’s time as head of press, supporters of the No to AV campaign went from underdogs to victors. On Election Day, voters rejected the referendum handily.

Currently, Sharpe is the head of media and campaigns for the Countryside Alliance, an organization focused on furthering the interests of the country’s rural areas. Countryside has already seen an increase in coverage and exposure with Sharpe heading the press office and developing its communications strategy.

Ashley Spillane, 28, Democrat

Executive Director, Atlas Project

Initially, Ashley Spillane wasn’t sold on a career in politics. Back in 2002, a friend convinced her to help out on Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s race for governor in Maryland. Two years later she was in Ohio working as a field organizer on the Kerry-Edwards campaign, and it was there that she finally found her calling. “I was supposed to go abroad to Jordan, but went to Ohio instead to work in the field on the Kerry campaign,” Spillane says. “Even though we lost I found myself really wanting to stay involved.”

Spillane stayed in Iowa for the 2006 cycle, managing a staff of 30 as the regional field director for the Iowa Democratic Party. From there she found her way to Tom Vilsack’s campaign, and eventually to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign—Spillane was a regional field director on Clinton’s Iowa effort. By the time she started working in the AFL-CIO’s political department in the summer of 2008, Spillane had already amassed an impressive amount of field experience.

At the AFL-CIO, Spillane continued to impress, overseeing the development and distribution of 23 million mail pieces targeting swing voters in the presidential race, as well as key statewide and federal races across the country. But it has been her work at the Atlas Project which has practically made her a household name among progressive strategists and consultants across the country. Atlas is a one-stop shop for Democratic campaigns and independent expenditure groups to— legally—view what the other one is up to.

“It is likely to change the way people do campaigning, the way they spend money,” says Atlas Project Co-Founder Steve Rosenthal. “Right now, there’s inefficiency in the process.” Spillane pioneered the “Atlas Debrief,” which has turned into an annual strategy conference that attracts hundreds of Democratic campaign operatives who trade stories and share tactics. Ahead of this cycle, Spillane helped develop the Atlas online toolkit—a database that can be accessed by operatives and progressive groups, which houses an astounding level of comparative data on strategy, media spending and messaging.

In addition to her work at Atlas, Spillane is currently pulling double duty—she was recently named executive director of Democratic Gain, the liberal campaign training group.

Brendan Steinhauser, 30, Republican

Director of Grassroots Strategy, FreedomWorks

Brendan Steinhauser has quickly earned a reputation as one of the smartest and most effective organizers behind the Tea Party movement. As the director of grassroots campaigns for FreedomWorks, Steinhauser has trained and led activist groups in all 50 states to help elect conservatives to Congress, and the boots Steinhauser has helped put on the ground have been welcomed by GOP campaign strategists across the country.

As an undergraduate at the University of Texas, Steinhauser was drawn to political activism and to the conservative movement cause. He often attended debates, boycotts, and protests with his peers while leading the UT chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas—it’s where he first gained to exposure to many of the same organizing tactics he employs on the campaign trail today. Upon graduation he also published a book, “The Conservative Revolution: How to Win the Battle for College Campuses.” It was a step-by-step guide for student leaders looking to organize campus conservatives around the country.

In 2005, Steinhauser moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as a director for FreedomWorks. With passion for the Tea Party cause and an underdog mentality, he has helped elect over 80 new members of Congress. In 2009, Steinhauser also helped organize the March on Washington, which brought Tea Partiers to the nation’s capital in record numbers to protest excessive spending and debt. “I don’t think I’ll do anything as meaningful as that,” says Steinhauser

Chris Talbot, 28, Democrat

Founder, Talbot Digital

Chris Talbot is often the youngest person in the room when he gets to a strategy meeting. Recently, he was brought in by the State Department to help with outreach and democracy building in Latin America. With a background that includes three years on the election and issue advocacy team at Google, Talbot has expertise in online communications, message development, and social media. It’s the kind of stuff that can make government bureaucrats and veteran operatives roll their eyes.

“When you’re the youngest in the room, you’ve got to demonstrate your credibility,” he says. “What you need to do in digital is actually tie your work back to objectives that matter in a campaign.” Talbot is fascinated by the role of youth in politics. He closely followed last year’s Arab Spring, where a youth driven protest movement eventually toppled three North African dictators. During a recent trip to Latin America, he heard from clients that they wanted to reach young voters. It was refreshing, he says, because in the United States “there’s less focus on youth and young voters.”

Along with work for Rock the Vote, Talbot also helped Boeing in its successful bid to land the contract to build a new fleet of tankers for the Air Force, and developed the digital video strategy for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) reelection campaign last cycle.

Still, his campaign and corporate clients are less interested in young voters given that the demographic isn’t considered a major political player. “We’re an old country,” Talbot says. “And when you look at the voters, we’re even older.” He continues: “Abroad there’s this energy, but there’s not a strategic approach. It’s very nascent. We think we can work with the people trying to build these movements.”

Dave Tollaksen, 29, Democrat

Senior Analyst, Mellman Group

Dave Tollaksen grew up in a political family in Wisconsin—one that wasn’t afraid to talk politics at the dinner table. He calls his dad a fiscal Republican, while his mother was the consummate swing voter. His father hailed from a traditionally Republican family, and his mother’s side included plenty of Democrats and union members. “It’s fair to say I heard both sides of the conversation for years,” Tollaksen says.

But it was an internship in 2004 with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that convinced Tollaksen he wanted to make a living in politics. He had been trying to decide between the DSCC and a gig at the Wilson Center. Tollaksen ended up in Oklahoma working on the coordinated campaign for Brad Carson’s Senate race. “Going to a place where Democrats struggle was probably one of the best choices of my political career,” he says. “It forces you to understand the sort of message you need to make Democrats successful in a state like Oklahoma. And you learn the lesson of authenticity.”

After the 2004 cycle, Tollaksen found himself in the same spot hundreds of other Democratic operatives were in—unemployed. With a background in econometrics and game theory from Notre Dame, Tollaksen landed an internship with The Mellman Group. In the years since, he’s worked his way up from intern to senior analyst.

Last cycle, Tollaksen worked two of the country’s biggest Senate races. He handled polling, focus groups, ad testing, and targeting for the reelection efforts of Sen. Barbara Boxer in California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. “We had polling results that were right when everyone else was wrong,” Tollaksen says of Reid’s campaign against Republican Sharron Angle. “I’m more proud of that than anything else we’ve done.”

Roberto Trad, 35, International

Senior Partner, Strategic Communications Arts and Crafts Institute

Roberto Trad began his career as a journalist. In fact, his first reporting job led to his first exposure to a political campaign. Trad interviewed a slew of hopefuls, mostly candidates for local elections in Mexico City, and he was hungry for more. And after spending some time in public relations, Trad’s desire to make a career out of politics led him back to the world of academia. So he went from Mexico to New York City to earn an MA in political science at the New School University.

“Working in PR, I realized that I needed more of an education in politics and political science,” says Trad. “So I went to study hard core traditional politics and get a better understanding of that.” In 2003, Trad worked as a consultant for PRI candidates for Congress in Mexico, and a couple of years later he was opening up a political consulting firm of his own. The professional turning point for Trad was Rafael Correa’s 2006 presidential campaign in Ecuador—Trad played a central role in Correa’s win in a tough race. Trad’s resume includes work for more than 20 campaigns, including four presidential races, in three different countries.

For Trad, statistics and critical thinking form the core of his firm’s philosophy. “We’re not interested in being rock stars,” Trad says of the principals at his firm. “We’re interested in coming up with new methodological approaches to solving client problems.”

Paul Winn, 33, Republican

Political Director, Smart Media Group

Five years in Albany taught Paul Winn a few lessons. As a young operative out of then-Gov. George Pataki’s office, he cut his teeth managing races for the New York GOP’s state Senate campaign committee. Not an easy task in a deep-blue state where the competitive contests are concentrated in the most expensive media market in the country. “You really have to be focused on who your targeted audience is,” says Winn. “I learned how to deal with districts where you’re up against a significant Democratic enrollment advantage.”

By 2006, Winn was ready to make the leap to national-level politics. He decided to decamp for a consulting job in Washington with Smart Media Group. He came south a winner, having recently made a sizable windfall, although it wasn’t a campaign victory bonus. Growing up near Saratoga, which has a long history of horse racing, Winn often spent time at the track. He got to know horses. During a trip to Belmont Park on Long Island, he bought the supplementary program and put his analytical skills to use. Winn picked six winners in a row and walked out $10,000 richer. “I do fashion myself a pretty decent handicapper,” he says. “I love the race track.” In horse racing, just like media buying, there’s no grey area, just winners and losers. “There are a lot of ways to interpret a poll,” he says. “There are not a lot of ways to interpret a buy.”

Winn’s since gone on to work on races throughout the country, including Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran’s primary win and Rep. Kevin Yoder’s 2010 victory.