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Pennsylvania’s 2012 Rising Stars: 30 Under 30

Here they are, Pennsylvania’s top campaign operatives under age 30. These are the men and women who will be running the show in a few years – if they aren’t already.

Throwback: check out our 2010 list.


Carrie Brown, 23. Scheduler, Tom Smith for Senate

It’s probably a matter of minutes before Brown gets scooped up by her next campaign. That’s about how long it took Smith to hire her after the the GOP primary, when she worked for Sam Rohrer. This Grove City College grad is organized, professional and on her game. Plus, her sunny demeanor appeased even the most recalcitrant party activists from far flung counties that – let’s face it – didn’t stand a great chance of getting face time from a statewide candidate.

Meredith Buettner, 26. Finance Director, Meehan for Congress

Meehan is far and away the best fundraiser in Pa.’s GOP congressional delegation, and he’ll begin the 2014 campaign with a $1 million head start – thanks in large part to Buettner’s work this cycle. It might even be enough to keep him of the DCCC’s target list next time around. Hopefully she gets a commission! She’s Delco GOP through and through: she worked as Meehan’s Deputy FD last cycle and interned for Curt Weldon in 2006.

Valerie Caras, 26. Communications and Technology Director, Pa. Republican Party

Can we say we called it? Caras made our 2010 list as Executive Director of the Dauphin Co. GOP and her star has risen since. She helps craft and deliver the party’s message, and will have an even more prominent role as the 2014 Corbett re-elect heats up.

Dan Cook, 25. Campaign Manager, Argall for Pa. Senate

Argall had a tough primary and a legitimate general election challenger, and the total spent on this seat exceeded $1.5 million. Cook ably handled both during his first time as the CM on a race. The Senator won because he stayed focused and did well in non-Schuylkill counties – results of Cook’s contributions. He got his start in 2010 with the PAGOP as a field staffer in northeast Pa. and made the cut to stay on board after the election.

Carolyn “Andy” Davis, 27. Deputy Finance Director – Pa., Romney for President

As much as Mitt Romney spent in Pa. during the last week of the campaign, he raised far more here. Davis helped coordinate Romney’s multi-million dollar fundraising effort in the state – she even relocated to Boston. Prior to that, she worked at Welch for Senate and Meehan for Congress. She is also a former contributor to PoliticsPA.

Jen DeLoggio, 25. Finance and Political Manager, Toomey for Senate

Sen. Toomey will be one of Democrats’ top targets in 2016, so he’s maintaining an active statewide political and fundraising network. DeLoggio is the woman in charge of keeping the lights on. She represents the Senator at GOP meetings far and wide and helps to coordinate fundraising.

John Elizandro, 23. Political Director, Meehan for Congress

Meehan’s team is one of the best in the state. Elizandro started as an intern on his 2010 race and has worked as PD since – in addition to being a full time student at Villanova. He graduated in May and served as Meehan’s spokesman in addition to helping out with virtually every other facet of the campaign. He’s sharp and a pro.

Josiah Frederick, 27. Deputy Political Director, House Republican Campaign Committee

House Republicans had a superb cycle; they maintained their large majority and lost only one incumbent – no small feat in a presidential year. Frederick was the HRCC’s go-to guy and made the trains run on time. He also helped to oversee the committee’s messaging. The Messiah grad got his start at PAGOP in the final months of the 2008 campaign and has been at HRCC since.

Cody Harbaugh, 25. Field Director – NEPA, Pa. Victory (RNC)

The nitty gritty chore of organizing volunteers and making voter contacts is one of the most tiring requirements of a campaign staffer. Yet, by the same token, it’s the first opportunity many politicos get to build a reputation in the business. This year, Harbaugh stands out as a GOP field staffer who made a name for himself through his hard work and long hours.

Billy Pitman, 23. Communications Director, Pa. Victory (RNC)

In a few months, this North Carolina transplant went from deputy coms at the PAGOP to the spokesman for the Republican National Committee’s Pa. effort. For most of the 2012 general election, he was the point person for campaign events in the state as well as someone who helped with on-the-ground logistics.

Jon Raso, 26. Campaign Manager, Rothfus for Congress

He’s the man responsible for the GOP’s marquee Pa. win on election night. Congressman Mark Critz was one of just two incumbents to lose on election night in the state and the only Democrat. Raso learned his lessons from his 2010 stint as Rothfus’s finance director, and consistently outraised Critz. He also worked on the official side for Pat Toomey.

Brian Rengert, 25. Field Director, House Republican Campaign Committee

One of the reasons the HRCC found success two cycles in a row is its investment in a good field network. Incumbents and challengers alike have designated reps who communicate with the committee. Rengert managed that program this cycle, after several races himself in the trenches. This year, he specialized in incumbent protection.

Marie Vulaj, 27. Finance Director, Tom Smith for Senate

Everyone expected Tom Smith to have a healthy war chest, but few foresaw his ability to raise more money than Sen. Bob Casey even excluding his own contributions. Vulaj, the former FD for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, helped put Smith raise his way onto the national radar.

Peter Towey, 28. Pa. Victory Director, Pa. Victory (RNC)

Towey is consistently one of the smartest people in the war room and one of the top GOP campaigners in Pa. After managing the Senate campaign of Steve Welch, he took the helm of Republican statewide efforts and exceeded every metric set forth by the national party. He’s also an alum of Pawlenty for President and Toomey for Senate, for which he made our 2010 list.

Ben Wren, 27, Events and Logistics Director, Romney for President

The Romney campaign brought on Wren from the PAGOP in the summer to facilitate events in Pa. and neighboring states. He’s one of the best in the business at planning and executing everything from private fundraisers to major rallies. He’s another alum from our 2010 list and remains a go-to guy for western Pa. politicos.


J.J. Abbott, 26. Communications Director, Allegheny County Controller

A native of SEPA, Abbott ran Chelsa Wagner’s (unopposed) re-elect for state House in 2010 and her win in the contested 2011 Controller primary. He also worked for Sestak for Senate and Wagner for Governor in 2010. He’s a player in Pittsburgh politics and there’s speculation he may step into a statewide role in Democrats’ efforts to unseat Tom Corbett.

Katie Conter Biggica, 28. Finance Assistant, WS Group

Biggica picked up right where she left off when the left the House Democratic Campaign Committee after the 2010 cycle: fundraising for many of the top incumbents in the Pa. House (the leadership team minus Pa. House Minority Leader Frank Dermody). She’s got a reputation as a hard-working professional who gets the job done.

Jessica Cosme, 24. Deputy Director, Senate Democratic Campaign Committee

The Senate Dems had their best cycle in decades due in part to Cosme’s work running the day to day operations of the committee in Harrisburg. She helped with recruiting, fundraising and other activities. She is universally liked and extremely competent.

Elena Cross, 27. Political and Targeting Director, Pa. Democratic Party

In an election cycle where “data-driven” was the go-to buzzword, Cross was in charge of the Democratic party’s information resources. She coordinated political and field programs of the Obama campaign, the DCCC, state SDCC and HDCC. She ran the paid communications programs for the state party and oversaw GOTV and voter protection efforts. Not to mention the party’s efforts to mitigate the potential impacts of the voter ID law.

Jake Digel, 27. Deputy Finance Director, Casey for Senate

Casey’s finance team had a tough task this cycle. When all the numbers come in, it will be clear that their opponent chipped in around $20 million to his effort – plus strong donor fundraising. Digel helped Casey’s team raise as much as they needed to turn back a strong challenge. Previously, he’s campaigned for Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Chris Carney.

Matt Goldfine, 29. Campaign Manager, Brian Sims for State House

In January, Sims will become the first openly gay state legislator after a narrow primary win over Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Phila). That’s thanks in large part to Goldfine’s work overseeing the campaign from top to bottom. He stepped down after 4 years as Rep. Tim Briggs’ (D-Montco) chief of staff to run the Sims race.

Eric Hagarty, 24. Finance Director, Allegheny Executive Rich Fitzgerald

This Washington State transplant has flourished in Pittsburgh. After raising oodles of cash for Fitzgerald’s 2011 campaign and assisting in the transition, Hagarty raised for Dermody and now is Pittsburgh Councilman and mayoral candidate Bill Peduto’s money man. As Fitzgerald is a mover and shaker in the region and the state, so is Hagarty.

Pete Hammerle, 26. Deputy Campaign Manager, DePasquale for Auditor

If you want a workhorse who’s an expert at designing and executing a strong ground game, Hammerle is your man. An alum of Tim Holden and Arlen Specter and a longtime Philly pol, he cut his teeth doing field for Ed Rendell in 2002 – while in high school. He was DePasquale’s body man through much of 2012 and also directed his petition efforts. He went on to do field for a congressional race out of state.

Pat Millham, 29. Pa. Political Director, Obama for America

He’d have made this list even if it was just 3 under 30. He’s one of the most established politicos in Pa. and helped connect the Obama campaign with the state’s sometimes fractured Democratic factions. He has great relationships with political principals and staff throughout the state and a reputation as a hard worker with no ego. He previously worked as PD for Dan Onorato for Governor and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.  Want to know who is the Dems’ 2014 Gov front runner? Watch where Milham goes.

Aubrey Montgomery, 29. Finance Director, Pa. Democratic Party

When Montgomery made this list in 2010, she was on the congressional campaign of Bryan Lentz. She moved up in the world, and now oversees the finances of Pa.’s state party. She’s the brains behind the party’s myriad finance and compliance projects and helped the Dems get two strong years of bang for their bucks.

Mark Nicastre, 28. Communications Director, Pa. Democratic Party

From Corbett’s first day in office, the Pa. Democrats have driven a strong message about Republicans up and down the ballot this cycle. Nicastre has been in the driver’s seat, directing the Dems’ communication efforts, as well as research and tracking efforts.

Jake Pawlak, 24. Campaign Manager, Matt Smith for Pa. Senate

Matt Smith had to overcome a lot to capture John Pippy’s Senate seat, and Pawlak ran an excellent race. He formerly worked in Bob Casey’s Pittsburgh office as well as on the campaigns of Rich Fitzgerald and Dan Onorato. His is a career to watch.

Martin Santalucia, 24. Political Director, House Democratic Campaign Committee

One of the HDCC’s bright spots this cycle was its field program, which according to the DLCC (its corresponding national group) was the best effort by any Democratic state legislative caucus in the country. It was overseen by Santalucia, who earned his chops in 2010 as Dermody’s CM.

Shane Seaver, 27. Campaign Manager, Cartwright for Congress

When Seaver stepped out of his car in Moosic a year agp, Matt Cartwright was a long shot primary challenger to Rep. Tim Holden (D-Schuylkill). Seaver’s fundraising and organizing prowess put him in the position to oust Pa.’s longest-serving incumbent congressman, and his talented messaging helped attract hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending to seal the deal. He’s a veteran of nearly a dozen campaigns, including several in the city of Philadelphia.

Dan Siegel, 24. Regional Field Director – Montgomery County, Obama for America

Siegel earned a strong reputation as the Obama campaign’s top field staffer in Pa.’s biggest swing county. He worked with local activists to build a large volunteer network and also helped the campaign organize Jewish supporters.

PA’s Top High School Politico:

Brandon Posner, 17. Chairman, Bucks County Teenage Republicans

Posner is one of the most active and vocal Republicans in the swing county of Bucks and consistently gets involved with local and statewide campaigns – for example, he organized a U.S. Senate debate in December. He also interned for the campaign of Mike Fitzpatrick and Pa. Sen. Chuck McIlhinney’s district office.

And he’s got a good playbook for other young men and women hoping to get into politics. Want to build a positive reputation in the business? Try this: an open offer to volunteer for any candidate, local or otherwise.

Editor’s note: This year, we decided not to overlap entries on this list with those on other ‘top operative’ type superlatives. As a matter of course, we did not include elected officials.

17 Responses

  1. I have an idea for another list:
    Top 3 random jerks with no valuable commentary to add
    D. Miller
    Beaver GOP

  2. Also known as the next big liars. These guys lie for the politicians who lie. These are not people who I respect.

  3. You guys are getting awfully worked up over a list of people who basically asked Keegan if they could be on it. Lame.

  4. Aubrey Montgomery is “abhorred”? Reaaaallllly? That’s news to me and every other working politico in the business who knows their stuff. I have only heard universal praise from many, many people, and it is not hollow. She is an absolute master of compliance and campaign finance, not to mention she’s taught about half or more of her peers working in fundraising who are worth a damn how to do their jobs. Methinks I will stick with the educated opinions of my colleagues.

    For a more humorous postscript, because that’s how I roll, it’s kind of nagging me that I actually don’t know a single of the staffers on the R side. I think we should all start getting together Ted Kennedy style for bipartisan dinners or something (not steak dinners though because most of us don’t have the pocketbook to support that), perhaps friendly rivalries in games of charades or if we want to be hipster about it, Jenga. I am not athletic myself, which is why I am not proposing softball.

  5. Any African Americans or Latinos make the list? Oh I guess not as their spots where filled with the overpaid RNC under 30 staffers who worked hard but did not produce – good job politics PA, way to spread it around.

  6. Questionable D list probably formed by one criteria: do you share gossip with PoliticsPa? Eric Hagerty might be the least liked political operative on this list. Even more abhorred than Aubrey Montgomery. JJ Abbott and Jessica Cosme, while both nice enough, are essentially go-fors for their respective bosses. Cross and Siegel are real stars, but nobody here comes close to Pat Milham.

  7. Having a position on a political campaign and “working hard” does not qualify someone for “running the show.” What show are you referring to? The whole supposition seems to be misunderstanding the nature of grassroots organizing.

  8. What about all the people who volunteered for local races, spent hundreds of their own money, spent a ton of time away from their family, to have some of the same nit-wits above fall short with money and long on excuses?

  9. Come on, people. I think that all of these folks worked extremely hard, regardless of party and regardless of shortcomings (and we saw plenty of these on BOTH sides of the aisle). Hats off to all who made this list! What an accomplishment!

  10. How many of these guys actually won a race? Who takes responsibility for the lack of money on the Democratic side?

    Success has a thousand fathers, defeat has none!

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