PoliticsPA’s Top Operatives: 2014
Also, don’t miss our list of Pennsylvania’s 2014 30 under 30 Rising Stars.
Top Republican Operatives:
Virginia Davis, Spokeswoman, Tom McGarrigle for State Senate
Davis handles communications for a number of Republicans, including former – and potentially future – Senator and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum. It is her work for Tom McGarrigle, though, that earned her a spot on this list. The race received its fair share of scrutiny and attention but McGarrigle ultimately emerged victorious in the state’s most competitive State Senate race. She also worked as spokesman for Congressman Pat Meehan’s re-election campaign.
Mike DeVanney and Mark Harris, General Consultants Cold Spark Media
These two men from Cold Spark Media are among the most in-demand operatives for Republicans in the Keystone State. Among their clients is new Speaker of the House Mike Turzai. The next big campaign will be Pat Toomey’s re-election effort in 2016 and both will be a part of that effort.
Jason Ercole and Ray Zaborney, Consultant, Red Maverick Media
Earlier this year Ercole’s Pathfinder Communications merged with Zaborney’s Red Maverick Media. Together, their team advised a number of candidates including Congressman Bill Shuster. A particularly sweet victory was the re-election of State Representative Warren Kampf. The group also scored a coup when their client, State Sen. Jake Corman, became the new Majority Leader.
Sheila Flickinger, Finance Director, House Republican Campaign Committee
Flickinger is a fundraising wizard and has been throughout her twenty-plus year tenure with the HRCC. This year, though, was a high-water mark even for her. The House Republican Campaign Committee brought in more cash in 2014 than they ever had in their history, which was a big contributor to their gain of eight seats. If you want to know about the political operations of the House Republicans, then you’ll have to meet Sheila.
Nan McLaughlin, Finance Director, Tom Corbett for Governor
Throughout the entire campaign, Governor Corbett trailed his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf in the polls. Usually such a reality would make it extremely difficult to raise money, since how can you convince people to open their pocketbooks when they suspect the potential beneficiary can’t win. Yet Corbett was still able to keep pace with Wolf in the fundraising race. Oftentimes it’s the hardest races, and not the easiest ones, that best reveal the skill of campaign staffers.
Christopher Nicholas, Political Director, PA Business Council
Nicholas oversees PEGPAC, the political arm of the PA Business Council, which backed several state legislative candidates who won upsets in Dem-favored districts. He also runs the business lobby’s independent expenditures effort. A campaign veteran that has overseen many races, including several of former Senator Arlen Specter, Nicholas is already one of the “wise men” of state GOP politics.
Peter Peterson, Spokesman, Costello for Congress
Ryan Costello, as Chester County Commissioner, was considered a prime candidate to run in PA’s open Sixth District. The only issue was his low name ID. Peterson, an all-star among Delco Republicans, led the drive to fill in his candidate’s biography while attempting to paint Trivedi as a D.C. insider. The framing of Trivedi as an incumbent was an impressive example of political jujitsu by Peterson.
Peter Towey, Campaign Manager, Costello for Congress
Towey was tasked with leading the charge to replace retiring Rep. Jim Gerlach with Costello. Not only would this be Costello’s first run for Congress, their opponent would be Manan Trivedi embarking on his third effort. Still, Towey lead a mistake-free campaign that saw the Chester County Commissioner emerge victorious by twelve points come Election Night. He also worked for the RNC in 2012 and Toomey in 2010.
Mike Ward, Campaign Advisor, Camera Bartolotta for State Senate
Ward has been one of the premier advisors to Western PA Republicans in the Keystone State and deserves at least partial credit for the rise of conservative Republicans in the State Senate. That was most clearly seen in the campaign of SD-46 Republican nominee Camera Bartolotta over Senator Tim Solobay – the only incumbent in the chamber to lose in November. The Washington County-based district has been a target for Republicans for a decade and Ward helped Bartolotta to a clear victory.
Chad Weaver, Executive Director, House Republican Campaign Committee
Given that control of the State Senate was considered up for grabs in November, most of the attention was focused on the legislature’s upper chamber. In the House, however, the GOP recognized that a good performance could secure their majority for years to come. Weaver was in charge of that effort and produced extraordinary results. In a year that saw the top of the ticket lose by ten points, House Republicans picked up eight seats and didn’t lose a single incumbent. Thanks in large part to the work of Weaver and his staff, the Republicans are now sitting on a historic thirty-five seat majority in the State House.
Top Democratic Operatives:
Elena Cross, Executive Director, Fresh Start
Cross started the year as Executive Director for the PA Democratic Party and jumped on board Tom Wolf’s campaign after he secured the party’s gubernatorial nomination. Especially adept and popular among her colleagues, her speciality is in field and data work. Don’t be surprised to see her in D.C. or on a top national campaign in 2016.
Eric Hagarty, Deputy Campaign Manager for Western PA, Tom Wolf for Governor
Hagarty first made a name for himself as a prolific fundraiser for Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and then Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. He used that expertise to help Wolf in Western PA, the home of Gov. Corbett. He now works at the nexus of the most powerful Democrats in Pennsylvania.
Mary Isenhour, Senior Advisor, Tom Wolf for Governor
A veteran of the PA Democratic Party during the Rendell years, Isenhour joined the Wolf team early, at a time when many thought 2014 would be Allyson Schwartz’s year. She served as senior advisor to the first-time candidate, who combined an ad barrage in the primaries with discipline in the general to win the Governor’s mansion. After the victory, Wolf named her Co-Chair of his Inaugural Committee, a signal of the respect and faith he has in her abilities. If we had to reduce this list to a single entry, Mary Isenhour would be on it.
Seth Kaplan, Finance Chair, Brendan Boyle for Congress
Kaplan served as Finance Chair for Brendan Boyle’s bid for PA-13 and contributed in a myriad of ways. He helped recruit volunteers and was a key advisor as Boyle made up a large deficit to win the Democratic primary over former Congresswoman (and Clinton in-law) Marjorie Margolies. A long-time staffer for the Boyle brothers, Kaplan is the favorite to take over Brendan Boyle’s State House seat.
Obie Kernodle, Deputy Campaign Manager and Political Director, Tom Wolf for Governor
Kernodle was a vital part of the Wolf team. He was popular with, but not limited to, any one department in the Democratic nominee’s campaign. Kernodle was also a glue guy and fixer whenever needed. He is said to have one of the best phone lists in the commonwealth, and with an asset like that, he is likely to go far in Pennsylvania politics.
Marty Marks, Campaign Manager, Mike Stack for Lt. Governor
Marks is a longtime operative based in Pittsburgh’s labor politics. While Wolf began to run away with the Democratic gubernatorial primary as soon as his commercials hit the airwaves, the party’s race for Lt Governor was a scramble. Five candidates with little name recognition battled for the position while Jay Paterno jumped in, became the front-runner and dropped out all in the matter of a month. Nonetheless, Marks lead a nearly flawless campaign which combined a large fundraising advantage along with a lack of mistakes into a huge victory.
Mike Mikus, Spokesman, Campaign for a Fresh Start
Throughout the summer and fall of 2014, FreshStartPA was everywhere doing the dirty work the party couldn’t after the June power struggle. They released videos, tracked the Governor and were responsible for some of the most embarrassing stories for the Corbett campaign. Mikus, who served as McGinty’s campaign manager beforehand, was a driving force behind the most consequential PAC of the Governor’s race. He helped guide McGinty from a fourth-place finish to the second most powerful position in Harrisburg as the new Governor’s Chief of Staff. Mikus has decades of experience in Western PA, including managing Rich Fitzgerald’s race in 2011.
Aubrey Montgomery, Rittenhouse Political Partners
Few PA politicos know more about fundraising than Aubrey Montgomery, who worked for the PA Democratic party, Allyson Schwartz, Bryan Lentz and others in the past few years. That concerns not only the actual raising of cash but extends to knowledge of the financial reports that are released rather haphazardly throughout the year. Her twitter account is a must follow on the day of any fiscal report deadline. A former Finance Director for the Democratic Party, she is already one of the bright, young stars in Pennsylvania politics.
Saul Shorr, Media Consultant, Tom Wolf for Governor
If there was one thing all parties could agree this year, it was that Tom Wolf’s advertising strategy was an amazing success. Nothing epitomized that fact more than those famous Jeep commercials that rocketed the York native from single digits to front-runner. They were the work of Saul Shorr, who produced perhaps the most memorable ad of the 2012 presidential election. Expect the Philadelphia consultant’s star to rise even higher in the future.
Kevin Washo, Spokesman, Philadelphia 2016
It was recently revealed that Philadelphia is one of the three finalists for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. One of the main players behind the effort to bring the DNC to the City of Brotherly Love is Kevin Washo, former Executive Director of the PA Democratic Party. He’ll be a central player as the party decides in the next few months which city will host its next convention.