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Since 1988, Campaigns & Elections has recognized up-and-comers in the campaign business with the coveted Rising Star award. It's one of the most prestigious honors in the campaign world for a reason: industry giants are counted among the ranks of former Rising Stars.
Rising Star recipients have climbed to the heights of politics, launching dozens of successful consulting firms and serving at the highest levels of state and federal campaigns.
C&E is proud to announce the 2017 class of Rising Stars. We can’t wait to see where they’ll go next.
Amanda Coulombe, Democrat
General Manager for Organizing, NGP VAN
As the general manager of organizing at NGP VAN, it’s Amanda Coulombe’s job to ensure the company’s suite of tech products deliver for Democratic campaigns and that the tech provider continues to innovate. Over the last two cycles, Coulombe has built out NGP VAN’s strategic plan for its organizing tech, expanding voter contact channels for Democratic campaigns, leading the development of the mobile canvassing app MiniVAN, and overseeing integrations with third-party apps like Hustle, SpeakEasy Political and DemocraticAds.com. Coulombe also brings extensive on-the-ground experience in statewide campaigns – she served as statewide get-out-the-vote director for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 campaign, leading voter turnout operations in one of that year’s most watched contests nationwide.
Erin Finucane, Nonpartisan
Managing Director, Movement Building, Service Year Alliance
A seasoned veteran of grassroots campaign efforts, Erin Finucane is working to build the movement for national service from the ground up. Mobilizing in response to a need for a national ground game to expand service year opportunities and inspire the next generation to serve, Service Year Alliance has organized 50 community teams across the country, recruited thousands of volunteers, and generated tens-of-thousands of emails and calls in less than a year. Finucane was previously the global campaign director at Global Zero where she managed international campaign and advocacy efforts. She also spent three years with The ONE Campaign, which included spearheading the launch of ONE’s inaugural EU public mobilization effort in Brussels. Her ultimate goal: making a year of service part of growing up in America.
David Gold, Democrat
Director, Global Strategy Group
The past two election cycles haven’t exactly been kind to Democrats running in red states, but David Gold has helped communicate the party’s message over difficult terrain. As a Research Director at Global Strategy Group, Gold played a key role in steering the messaging for Steve Bullock’s successful campaign for Montana governor—a state Hillary Clinton lost by some 20 points last November—and for Rep. Brad Ashford’s congressional campaign in Nebraska. In house at Global Strategy Group, he’s also focused on moving research methods forward at a crucial time for pollsters, currently working to better understand the relationship between social media data and traditional polling metrics.
Daniel Gonzales, Democrat
Director of Strategy, The Analyst Institute
Key to the Analyst Institute’s mission of keeping progressive campaigns and organizations on the cutting edge is fostering relationships with activists and donors across the country. In that regard, Daniel Gonzales has already amassed an enviable national network that helps drive the organization’s work. Over the past several years, Gonzales has led development of the Analyst Institute’s GOTV trainings and materials, including the creation of a video training for thousands of field staff and professionals from progressive organizations. In addition to developing internal strategy at The Analyst Institute, Gonzales has led statewide ballot and GOTV effort in Colorado and helps support local community organizing efforts across the U.S.
Carlos Gutiérrez, International
CEO, Le Black Room
In Latin America, Carlos Gutiérrez is among the strategists leading the push for political campaigns to modernize their communications operations and embrace social media. The former social media manager of Americans Abroad for Obama, Gutiérrez has worked high profile races in Mexico and Spain while training Latin American campaigners on best practice for online communication and social listening. In addition to his extensive political work, Gutiérrez played a leading role in coordinating World Youth Day efforts in Rio de Janiero in 2013 where he advised on digital outreach and social media strategy. In 2016, he supported digital communications surrounding the visit of Pope Francis to Mexico in coordination with the Mexican Conference of Bishops.
Lauren Hutchinson, Republican
Vice President, The Tarrance Group
The 2016 cycle was anything but an easy one to be a pollster, particularly if you were tasked with measuring the impact the top of the ballot would have on Republican congressional candidates. But that was a large part of Lauren Hutchinson’s task as the polling director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Along with the committee’s political director, Hutchinson led a review of all congressional polling during the 2012 cycle and helped design a new set of standards which focused on improving likely voter screens and increasing cellphone makeup in surveys. As for what lies ahead in the 2018 cycle: polling in some of the cycle’s most watched races including Sen. Dean Heller’s reelection in Nevada and Sen. Jeff Flake’s bid for a second term in Arizona.
Jerri Ann Henry, Republican
President, Convergence Communications LLC
A former director of digital at JDA Frontline and V.P. at Finn Partners, Henry has managed digital programs for high-level corporate, political and nonprofit clients, along with developing social listening tools to help hone messaging for her clients. Ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, Henry led a group of young Republican operatives within Freedom to Marry. The goal was to build support for marriage equality among conservatives and lead a national paid media effort to highlight those in the GOP in support. Henry helped recruit and train spokespeople for the effort and promote noteworthy young conservative supporters.
Renée Johnson, Nonpartisan
Training Director, United State of Women
As the Training Director at the nonprofit group the United State of Women, Johnson is tasked with overseeing the organization’s extensive training programs -- specifically the creation of the Galvanize Program with the goal of getting more women of color involved in politics and public policy. An outgrowth of the White House Council on Women and Girls, which was established during the Obama administration, the United State of Women takes a nonpartisan approach to highlighting gender equality issues and training across an array of disciplines from grassroots organizing to entrepreneurship. Johnson formerly worked as Director of Legislation and Policy in the DC Department of Human Services, press secretary to Washington DC Councilman Phil Mendelson and former employee to Congressman Bobby L Rush and Senators Richard Durbin and Roland Burris.
Arianna Jones, Democrat
Senior Vice President, Revolution Messaging
In the very early days of his 2016 presidential run, few observers thought Sen. Bernie Sanders had any chance at challenging for the Democratic nomination. Arianna Jones set out to shift that narrative, helping execute a comms strategy designed to optimize earned media in coordination with an aggressive digital approach. As deputy communications director for Sanders, Jones put to work the communications skills she honed as a producer at MSNBC. The Sanders campaign displayed the rare ability to largely stay on message even amidst an increasingly tense Democratic primary contest. Now at Revolution Messaging, Jones works with progressive groups and movements that have emerged from the early days of the Trump administration to refine their messaging and increase their reach.
Bereket Kelile, Republican
Lead Research Analyst, Smith Johnson Research
Statistical viability is something that opinion researchers pursue relentlessly for their clients. Kelile is the kind of analyst who can find it. After joining the firm following his service in the Air Force, Kelile has helped develop a targeting model that uses voter file-matched polling samples and Porpoise Analytics technology's 3- and 4-way cross-tabulation functions to create an extremely precise message targeting matrix. The innovation has let campaigns take their survey crosstab groups and select the exact same micro-target on Facebook. Beyond having a head for numbers, Kelile can also expertly navigate the challenging domain of client relations. It’s that ability to relate that has helped Kelile keep happy a diverse client roster that ranges from the Texas Department of Highways to Republican John Cox’s California gubernatorial campaign. If that wasn’t enough to stay busy, Kelile is currently pursuing a Master’s in Economics with a focus on applied data analysis at CSU Sacramento.
Tommy McDonald, Democrat
Vice President, The Campaign Group
From management to strategy to field and comms, Tommy McDonald has earned a reputation as an operative who can add crucial intelligence to just about any part of a campaign. And in his time at The Campaign Group, McDonald has relished the tough races, in many cases helping lead underdog candidates to victory despite fundraising disparities. Along with helping steer dozens of Democratic races nationally, McDonald helped craft the messaging and strategy for Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s first run for public office – a victory that stunned local political observers. He also went three-for-three with Democrats in Trump districts last year at the state legislative, congressional and statewide level.
Benjy Messner, Democrat
Managing Principal, Precision Strategies
Balancing the needs of a diverse client roster is what makes a great consultant, and there’s no doubt that Messner has a wide variety of interests to navigate. As a leader in the firm’s Data & Analytics group, he’s worked with the Liberal Party of Canada and helped elect Justin Trudeau prime minister. For the DSCC, he helped develop and implement a presidential-style organizing program. For the DLCC, he brought in analytics support for state-level races. His insight has also enhanced the advocacy efforts of Planned Parenthood and Americans for Responsible Solutions, which used a state-by-state campaign to persuade gun owners to become advocates for gun safety. For Messner, data and analytics are about getting the right message in front of the right audience, and sometimes that audience isn’t political. For example, working with General Electric, Messner helped pilot a new grassroots program to communicate with and engage key audiences, building them into advocates on GE’s behalf, including suppliers, employees, and third-party validators. Messner’s work continues break new ground by leveraging campaign tactics to best position his clients across all industries.
Aubrey Montgomery, Democrat
Founder & Principal, Rittenhouse Political Partners
A former finance director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Aubrey Montgomery has built Rittenhouse Political Partners into the premiere fundraising firm in Pennsylvania and one of the top firms in the country. Montgomery helped raise millions for Philadelphia’s bid to host last year’s Democratic National Convention, and has raised money for dozens of state and federal campaigns while not being afraid to innovate and test strategic assumptions. Montgomery is a founding board member of the National Association of Political Fundraisers and she regularly conducts trainings for federal, state, and local groups looking to strengthen their political organizations. Montgomery is also recognized among her peers for a dedication to helping grow a strong and diverse bench of candidates and operatives in her home state.
Václav Pláteník, International
Associate, BTP Advisers
In less than a decade, Pláteník has graduated from volunteer on a regional campaign in the Czech Republic to serving as parliamentary press spokesman for one of the country’s governing parties. In the Czech Republic, Pláteník manages the efforts of the Christian Democrats, now a key part of the country’s governing coalition. There he helped developed sophisticated communications and research operations – tools his party is utilizing for the first time. He also founded the Women’s Campaign School in the Czech Republic, the first of its kind in Eastern Europe. Pláteník is now a vital part of the international team at BTP Advisers where he develops and leads campaigns and trainings from Europe to Africa.
Josh Sharp, Republican
Co-Founder & Managing Director, Advoc8
At a time when campaigns and organizations can no longer simply “buy” more reach for their message by just pouring money into TV, creativity in traditional and digital messaging is paramount. And Josh Sharp, who co-founded his own agency following a stint as creative director at the Republican National Committee, has become known as an operative who isn’t afraid to push the boundaries for his clients. Advoc8 burst onto the scene over the past year working for national media orgs, tech companies, trade associations and a slew of PACs and issue groups. Sharp preaches cross-channel competency to his clients and is part of a new generation of creative firms producing both TV and digital creative.
Christina Sheffey, Democrat
Director of Video, Bully Pulpit Interactive
Don’t complain about boring campaign ads to Christina Sheffey. As the director of video at Bully Pulpit Interactive, she’s worked hard to push clients including the DCCC and Hillary For America beyond their marketing comfort zones. For NextGen Climate, she pioneered using Tinder, as a vehicle for advocacy messaging. That ad campaign was part of an effort which helped register 95,000 Millennial voters in 2016. While Sheffey is also a proponent of clients getting their messaging out through Snapchat and Instagram, she’s equally comfortable with traditional mediums. In fact, her 15-second TV spot, the auctioneer-inspired “Dold to the Highest Bidder” for End Citizens United, helped unseat a Republican congressman and won awards to boot. But the Lebanon, Pa., native has different standards for her career milestones. She cites changing the laws in Colorado and Oklahoma to allow full-strength beer and wine to be sold in grocery stores as one of her top accomplishments.
Evan Stewart, Republican
Founder & Executive Director, Majority Hunter
Entrepreneurs are often inspired to launch their businesses after seeing an unmet need in the marketplace and concocting a solution to fix it. In the campaign industry, there’s broad consensus that a problem exists with what HR professionals call “human capital management.” The solution, as Stewart saw it, was to create a staffing agency where operatives could find a position that matched their experience level, and campaigns and advocacy groups could advertise for the right talent. Stewart knows firsthand how challenging it can be for campaign professionals to chart a career path. His resume includes two stints at the Florida-based firm Majority Strategies, serving as a political director on a Nebraska Senate race, working field for Bobby Jindal and serving as a legislative aide in Texas. He made those tough inter-state job transitions by relying on his own network. Now, with that experience, he’s created the platform to help make the process smoother for other Republicans.
John Thomas, Republican
President & Founder, Thomas Partners Strategies
Los Angeles isn’t exactly easy territory for Republicans, but it’s a landscape that John Thomas navigates with proficiency. Over the past few years, Thomas has taken on, and won, some tough races for his party in one of the most Democratic states in the nation, including electing a Republican as LA City Attorney. That was a race the LA Times called the biggest upset in 50 years in Los Angeles politics. Specializing in general consulting and media strategy, Thomas, who is also a CNN political commentator, has helped guide hundreds of California campaigns since founding the firm and has carved out a reputation for telling authentic stories in an industry that often defers to a cookie-cutter approach.
Kevin Walling, Democrat
Director of Business Development, DSPolitical and Co-founder Celtic, LLC
You might know Walling from his Fox News appearances, where he’s often the lone voice on the left. But Walling isn’t just a talking head “Democratic Strategist.” He’s worked in the trenches as a senior strategist at Stones' Phones, as a national field director and spokesman for the advocacy group No Labels, and as a director of development and communications for Equality Maryland. In that last role, Walling helped lead the successful effort to pass marriage equality in Maryland by founding the state's first Equality PAC. That PAC helped elect a pro-equality state legislature during the 2010 cycle, and lawmakers subsequently passed the marriage bill in 2011. Walling has also served as chair of the state's Montgomery County Democratic Party in 2014 and was the lead digital consultant at DSPolitical during the 2016 cycle for the California Assembly and Senate caucuses, electing a Democratic super-majority to both chambers.
Michele Watley, Nonpartisan
Founder & Owner, The Griot Group
Michele Watley served as national African American outreach director on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, coordinating grassroots and media efforts in a number of primary states including Iowa, Colorado, Missouri and Indiana. Later in the 2016 cycle, Watley served as political director for Chris Koster, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in her home state of Missouri. But even with her national experience on Democratic campaigns, Watley positions herself as a nonpartisan operative and concentrates on nonpartisan contests in Missouri. She is open to working with potential clients with shared interest and issues, regardless of party politics. She has also headed up civic campaigns, corporate efforts, and she led constituency outreach on Kansas City’s largest general obligation bond.
Jason Weinstein, Republican
Managing Director, Targeted Victory
Weinstein has a knack for analytics going back to his days at UCLA managing multiple databases for the college’s athletic fund. Now, instead of tracking college fundraising events, he’s helping GOP campaigns tap into new donors, grow their fundraising bases and increase their online engagement on a national scale. On Romney's digital team in 2012, Weinstein learned the strategy of using localized content. By adding, say, state-specific information to online copy, Weinstein helped increase the Romney-Ryan campaign’s email and e-commerce revenue by 28 percent, which contributed to a combined $182 million raised online. In 2016, he managed an online voter mobilization tool that was used by the RNC, NRCC and Trump campaign. The end result was more than 140,000 people registering to vote or registering for an absentee ballot — a breakthrough number for Republicans. Today, Weinstein runs the firm’s fundraising platform, Victory Passport, which has processed more than $350 million in campaign contributions and inspired development across Republican fundraising efforts. He also advises on analytics and creative for his firm's clients.