Since 1988, Campaigns & Elections has recognized the best young operatives 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 2018 class of Rising Stars.
Tara McGowan, Democrat
Founder and CEO, ACRONYM and Lockwood Strategy
With her new ventures, ACRONYM and Lockwood Strategy, Tara McGowan is helping progressive campaigns and organizations on the left to run more nimble and innovative digital programs. In just over a year, Lockwood has doubled in size and played a leading role in helping Democrats to major 2017 wins up and down the ballot in Virginia. Among the innovation already emerging from McGowan’s new venture: a first-of-its-kind online voter registration program with a custom built, end-to-end registration and relational organizing platform, a digital organizing tools assessment designed to help campaigns and organizations break through vendor marketing speak to more effectively utilize the digital resources available in the Democratic tech space, and a multi-million dollar digital-only effort to flip over 100 state legislative seats blue in the midterm elections this fall.
Katie Spannbauer, Republican
Director of Ad Strategy, Targeted Victory
Quickly becoming known as one of the leading experts on digital ad strategy in Republican politics, Spannbauer managed more than $22 million in ad campaigns on social and search during the '16 cycle. Ahead of the '18 cycle, she has built out an entire ad reporting system across all of Targeted Victory's client verticals and now leads a team that monitors and makes real-time ad decisions for dozens of Republican candidates and numerous Fortune 100 clients across the country.
Ross Morales Rocketto, Democrat
Co-Founder, Run for Something
In just over a year, Run for Something has turned its mission of recruiting and supporting young people running for office into a movement. Now with 13 full-time staff in seven states, the organization has recruited more than 18,000 potential candidates, 5000 plus volunteers, and solidified relationships with more than 60 partners. One of the driving forces behind Run for Something’s rapid growth, Morales Rocketto also launched National Run for Office Day, and has earned praise in progressive campaign circles for cultivating close relationships with other groups across the country, elevating the organization’s cause first and foremost.
Jane Hughes, Democrat
Director, Bully Pulpit Interactive
Jane Hughes came back to BPI last year following a stint as digital director on Maggie Hassan’s successful Senate race. There she built an email list nearly from scratch and raised more than $7 million in just over a year for a race against a well-funded GOP incumbent. Now, as a director at BPI, Hughes helps oversee a team of 11 strategists, leading on digital media strategy for some of the party’s largest IE’s for the crucial midterm cycle, including NextGen and Priorities USA.
Samantha Zaleski, Republican
Research Staff Director, TargetPoint Consulting
A leader in data visualization and predictive analytics, Samantha Zaleski has carved out a reputation developing effective messaging aimed at conservative audiences on progressive and center-right issues, including work for the American Unity Fund, Save the Children Action Network, and Independent Sector. For the 2018 cycle, Zaleski’s managing targeting for more than a dozen contested House and Senate campaigns.
Kamau M. Marshall, Democrat
Director of African America Media & Deputy National Press Secretary, DCCC
In a midterm election cycle that’s seeing widespread enthusiasm from the Democratic base, Kamau Marshall is working at the forefront of the party’s efforts to mobilize African Americans, millennials, and women in the effort to take back the House. The former communications director for Texas Rep. Al Green and Obama Alum is leading the DCCC’s outreach to African American media and helping train Democratic House candidates on African American and Millennial outreach.
Joshua Habursky, Nonpartisan
Chairman & Founder, Grassroots Professional Network
Joshua Habursky heads the grassroots and advocacy initiatives for the Independent Community Bankers of America, and in just five years in D.C. has earned a reputation as one of the advocacy industry’s leaders when it comes to professional development. Habursky’s peers like to joke that he never sleeps. Habursky founded the Grassroots Professional Network (GPN), which produces countless conferences and networking events over the course of the year to highlight best practice in grassroots strategies, and connect the advocacy and political campaign world in the nation’s capital.
Kevin McKeon, Democrat
Senior Vice President, Putnam Partners
During four cycles at the DCCC, Kevin McKeon earned a reputation for leveraging research, message, and creative in ways that helped push the committee forward. During the ‘14 cycle, McKeon directed the DCCC’s $67 million IE program, oversaw an expanded digital program, and led the committee’s polling efforts. After joining Putnam in 2015, he helped elect the youngest major in Richmond, Virginia’s history: Levar Stoney. And this cycle, he’s helping drive ad strategy for a host of the firm’s federal clients as Democrats look for gains up and down the ballot in 2018.
Tiffany Delgado, Republican
Political Strategy Director, The Lukens Company
During the 2016 election cycle, Tiffany Delgado led a team that collectively raised more than $200 million for a host of Republicans, including Ted Cruz, John Thune, Kristi Noem, and the NRSC. In a vertical where it isn’t easy to secure a seat at the table, Delgado has earned a reputation for executing some of the most successful direct response programs on the Republican side of the aisle over the past couple of cycles.
Jesse Stinebring, Democrat
Data Science Manager, Civis Analytics
Jesse Stinebring co-founded the company that was born out of Barack Obama’s 2012 reelect and in the years since has helped it grow from a company of just 13 original co-founders to one of the top data science firms in the political, nonprofit and advocacy world, now with more than 150 staff. In 2017, Stinebring oversaw the expansion of the political data team at Civis and served as head analytics consultant on the IE side of Doug Jones’ win in Alabama. For the ’18 cycle, he’s managing a team of more than 13 data scientists, engineers, and consultants working to drive Democratic campaigns and IEs forward, particularly when it comes to online polling and creative testing.
Francesca Larson, Democrat
Partner, Mosaic Strategy Group
Mosaic may not be a household name when it comes to digital firms, but Larson and her team quietly fuel the tech behind a host of progressive campaigns and organizations across the country. Larson played a leading role in the successful effort to get Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. Another reason Larson’s firm stands out, according to peers, is a real commitment to progressive values highlighted by the company’s work environment with a focus on full health insurance, comprehensive paid leave policies, and full-time, year-round employment for staff.
David Seawright, Republican
Vice President of Client Strategy, Deep Root Analytics
Candidates and causes will spend millions on TV advertising this year. David Seawright is helping GOP campaigns spend those dollars more effectively and efficiently up and down the ballot. At Deep Root, he serves as the TV targeting and media analytics lead for many of the firm’s top clients, including party committees and several key 2018 races. He also leads much of the firm’s product work when it comes to ad targeting.
Isabelle Gillespie, International
Digital Communications Manager, NSW Nationals
Gillespie leads the digital presence for the NSW Nationals, a center-right party that focuses on the interests of rural Australians. In a political environment with some limits on ways in which parties and campaigns can engage and raise money online, Gillespie has helped push the party’s email fundraising programs forward and works directly with the party’s candidates to develop their online and social media presence. Gillespie has worked on multiple campaigns at both the state and federal level. She has also helped implement the party’s Invite Her to Run campaign, a grassroots engagement strategy which encourages more community female leaders join the Nationals.
Kelli Jo Klein, Democrat
Managing Director, Fairmount Media
Two things that have helped Kelli Jo Klein stand out over the past couple of election cycles: a knack for developing strong email fundraising programs for clients, and her innovative work leading digital for the ’16 Democratic National Convention. There she developed more behind-the-scenes content (on a host of digital platforms) than ever before. With a focus on including everyone in online conversations, she and her team worked with the Convention’s Hispanic media team to create a variety of Spanish-language digital content that was culturally appropriate and engaged the diverse Latinx community of influencers. In her new role at Fairmount Media, Klein is helping build out a firm focused on digital engagement for Democratic campaigns.
Michael Lawler, Republican
Partner & Co-Founder, Checkmate Strategies
During his time as executive director at the New York State Republican Committee, Mike Lawler helped Republicans take back the state Senate, elect seven new GOP members of Congress, and make gains in local and county races across the state. He also ran Rob Astorino’s underdog bid against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in ’14, helping the party cut into Cuomo’s support upstate despite being outspent by some $40 million. Earlier this year, he teamed with strategist Chris Russell to launch Checkmate Strategies, a firm that’s quickly expanding its campaign footprint in New Jersey and New York.
Kate Monson, Democrat
Founding Partner, Forward Solution Strategy Group
As founding partner and creative director at FSSG, Kate Monson helps campaigns tell stories through brand development, video production, digital advertising and direct mail. Prior to co-founding FSSG, Monson built a reputation for dynamic creative with a design consultancy that served state Democratic parties, candidates, and nonprofits. Kate also served as communications director for the Minnesota DFL Party, where she helped re-elect Sen. Amy Klobuchar and win both legislative majorities. For the 2018 cycle, Kate’s team is working to expand the map for Democrats throughout the Southeast and the Midwest.
Adam Meldrum, Republican
Managing Partner, AdVictory
Want to understand how chatbots and AI are impacting political campaigns? Adam Meldrum is your go-to. Meldrum built AdVictory, a robust digital voter-contact technology stack, from scratch. His clients run the gamut from Republican senators to gubernatorial candidates and national party committees.
Parks Bennett, Republican
Founder, Campaign Inbox
Following his work for the Republican National Committee and then the Trump campaign in the 2016 election cycle, Bennett founded Campaign Inbox. Campaign Inbox has built proprietary tech and a team focused on helping campaigns, advocacy groups, and nonprofits meet their goals through email. The focus is on reaching more users' inboxes and building a stronger one-to-one, continued relationship with online donors and activists.
Ryan Fanning, Democrat
Vice President, DSPolitical
Fresh out of college, Fanning was one of the first Democratic consultants to run voter file targeted digital ad campaigns at BPI and then Precision Network. Now after years of work on both the political and corporate side, he’s building out DSPolitical’s media planning and programmatic practice. Fanning has grown the company’s west coast team from just one to eight staffers, and he manages a DC-based team responsible for running billions of impressions for Democratic campaigns up and down the ballot.
Randan Steinhauser, Republican
Founding Partner, Steinhauser Strategies
Randan Steinhauser launched her firm at the age of 25 with just a single client. In the five years since, she's worked with more than forty campaigns, corporations, and organizations throughout the country and in her home state of Texas. As one of the leading advocates for school choice in the state, Randan helped to usher in a new wave of legislative and grassroots support for the issue. She and her firm have quickly become a leading PR and campaign voices in the state.
Kate Holliday, Nonpartisan
Political Sales Director, RhythmOne
With OTT and Connected TV ad options garnering more attention from political campaigns, Kate Holliday is carving out a reputation as a go-to within the industry on the subject. Holliday’s made inroads with digital agencies across the industry and campaign and party committee staff on both sides of the aisle.
Jerry Zagoritis, International
Founder & Managing Director, campaignLAB
Jerry Zagoritis is working to bring digital tactics to campaigns across Europe. Based in Brussels, Zagoritis has been working high profile races since 2014 and now runs JZ Strategic, a boutique digital consulting firm, and campaignLAB, a startup that mixes behavioral science with advanced targeting to craft winning campaigns for political clients and advocacy groups. He was part of the team that orchestrated the digital campaign for Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and he frequently leads trainings on digital campaigning for political parties and think tanks across Europe, most recently in preparation for the 2019 European Elections.