Close this search box.

PoliticsPA’s Top Operatives: 2012

Ryan Gosling in ‘The Ides of March’ has nothing on Pa.’s top political operatives.

Pa. has a lot of political talent – some of the best in the country. These are the 20 men and women who stand out.

This list is based on conversations with dozens of politicos from across Pa. and Washington D.C., as well as PoliticsPA’s experience this cycle.

Also, don’t miss our list of Pennsylvania’s Rising Stars: Top 30 Politicos Under 30. And here is our 2010 Top Operatives list.

Top Democratic Operatives

J.J. Balaban, Media Consultant, Kane for Attorney General

Kathleen Kane’s strong win is due in large part to her mastery of media narrative, itself due in large part to her superior television commercials. Balaban was the man behind the ads, and helped set the tone of the campaign. A principal at the Campaign Group, last cycle he cut ads for Joe Sestak for Senate.

Mike Butler, Finance Director, Casey for Senate

Butler’s got a strong resume in Pa. Democratic fundraising. Sen. Bob Casey’s campaign took its fair share of lumps for seeming inaction this cycle, but they raised enough to be on TV enough to beat back a well-funded challenger. Butler came to Casey by way of Onorato’s 2010 gov race (where he was also FD). He previously worked for Altmire. Keep an eye out for which gov hopeful he decides to raise money for in 2014.

Dan Fee, President, Echo Group

Fee is a veteran Democratic operative with experience in campaigns from Philly to Pittsburgh and everywhere in between. Now, he consults for the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers among a dozen other movers and shakers. He’s got his finger on the pulse of political goings-on in the city and across Pa.

Mary Isenhour, Principal, Isenhour Rooney and Carey

The longtime ED of the Pa. Democratic Party, Isenhour is now one of the top consultants in the state. Few can move between the strategy of campaigning and its mechanics with the ease that she does. She advised Rob Teplitz among others this cycle.

Kevin Kinross, Campaign Manager, Nutter for Mayor

This western Pa. native bridged Pa.’s wide culture gap this election cycle, successfully guiding Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to re-election. Kinross worked as Onorato’s CM in 2010 and covered western Pa. for both Clinton and Obama campaigns in 2008 and Rendell in 2006.

Mike Mikus, Strategic Consultant, Critz for Congress

He’s a smart big picture thinker and one of the most effective spokespeople in the business. Mikus scored the upset of the year in the spring when Rep. Mark Critz (D-Cambria) beat Jason Altmire in the Democratic primary and despite Critz’s loss in the general, he managed to outperform even Bob Casey in the 12th. Mikus also does consulting on energy issues.

Mark Nevins, General Consultant, Rob McCord for Treasurer

As politicos watch for McCord’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign to kick off, they should note that the Treasurer retains Nevins at the helm (he also helped the incumbent secure re-election by 8 points). Nevins got his start in Pa. as coms director for John Street’s Philly mayoral in 2003. He moved on to coms for Kerry/Edwards in 2004 and Clinton in 2008. He’s a partner at Dover Strategy Group.

Aren Platt, Executive Director, Senate Democratic Campaign Committee

No Democratic operation had as good a night as the Pa. Senate Dems, and Platt played a key role in their historic success. The committee made a smart gamble and picked up three open seats – the caucus’s best performance since 1970. Platt ran the show, soup to nuts, and will stay on to try to expand on his success in 2014.

Sari Stevens, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood PA PAC

Stevens runs a tight ship and helped PP be a player in numerous Pa. races from the top of the ballot to the bottom. 2012 was a good year for pro-choicers on the ballot and their direct mail was among the best of the cycle. Going forward, expect Republicans in swing districts to tread much more carefully on women’s issues.

Kevin Washo, Executive Director, Pa. Democratic Party

Democrats’ sweep of Pa. statewide offices on election day was the culmination of two years of hard work by Washo. Coming off a rough cycle in 2010, he helped to build and direct a strong, professional team that delivered. He’s also a close adviser to Sen. Casey.

Top Republican Operatives:

John Brabender, Media Consultant, Santorum for President

Santorum’s plucky TV presence helped him outlast all other Romney rivals during the presidential primary. But Brabender’s work on that campaign is just part of a national repertoire. He does TV ads for Republican Governors from coast to coast including Tom Corbett. He’s one of the biggest names in the business, nationally.

Christine Thomas Costello, Finance Director, Pileggi for Senate

As the Majority Leader’s influence grows, so does Christine’s role.  She helped him raise over $1.5 million this year and they easily faced down pesky challengers in the primary and general. 2014 will be a big year for the Majority Leader and his southeast Pa. allies in the state Senate; her experience will be in high demand next cycle.

Joe DeFelice, Philadelphia Director, Pa. Republican Party

He’s got his ear to the ground and knows what’s going on across the city at any time. All of Pa.’s statewide Republican leadership – Gov. Corbett, Sen. Toomey, Chairman Gleason – are pushing the long-complacent Philly GOP to be more formidable; DeFelice is their man working to make it happen. He’s also helping the party message statewide: he unearthed “Joe Cheeseborough,” one of the GOP’s biggest arguments for Voter ID, and is also the originator of this classic New Black Panther video from 2008.

Jason Ercole, President, Pathfinder Communications

Direct mail plays an outsized in state House races, so a good consultant is key. Ercole’s company Pathfinder helped the HRCC hold the line in an otherwise strongly pro-Dem cycle. The crown jewel: Warren Kampf, who was re-elected despite a concerted effort by a top tier challenger. He’s been in and around GOP campaigns for over two decades.

Vince Galko, General Consultant, Gerlach for Congress

Galko is one of the most plugged in GOP consultants in Pa. and a longtime adviser to Rep. Jim Gerlach – who had such a big win this year that he’s unlikely to be a top Dem target in the future. Galko also worked on successful congressionals in New Jersey and New York this cycle. He’s the VP of Mercury Public Affairs.

Caitlin Ganley, Campaign Manager, Meehan for Congress

Congressman Meehan is a rising star in Pa. politics and has a strong campaign team. It’s lead by Ganley, an alum of numerous southeast Pa. races including Dominic Pileggi’s. She was Meehan’s Political Director in 2010 and transition to district director in between cycles.

Mark Harris and Mike DeVanney, General Consultants, Cold Spark Media

If you want to win a Republican primary in Pa., Harris and Devanney are your guys. Despite a tough general election, they remain among the best in Pa. Their client Mike Turzai and the House Rs had a strong cycle, and Rep. Tim Murphy is permanently off of target lists for Dems and the Tea Party.

Mike Long and Todd Nyquist, General Consultants, Long, Nyquist & Associates

The GOP had a few bright spots in Pa. this year and the biggest was Keith Rothfus’s win over Critz. His strong yet humanizing TV ads – courtesy of Long/Nyquist – were a big reason for the win. These guys are veterans at the top of their game. They went 13-0 in Pa. races in November, including 5 in the Pa. Senate. Of the 4 Republicans who lost contested Pa. Senate races, 0 were LN clients.

Chris Nicholas, Political Director, Pa. Business Council

He oversaw PEGPAC and the business lobby’s independent expenditure efforts this cycle. The former Specter campaign manager is a direct mail and media veteran. Nicholas is one of the smartest guys in any room.

Chad Weaver, Executive Director, House Republican Campaign Committee

When the Pa. House begins its new session in January, Republicans will maintain an identical 111 to 92 majority – despite a strong year for Democrats in the Keystone State. That’s due in large part to Weaver’s leadership. He’s well-liked, well-respected, and leads a strong team at HRCC.

Editor’s Note: some of the people on the list work for groups that characterize themselves as non-partisan; we assigned them categories based on which party benefits from the bulk of their work.

23 Responses

  1. If you ever need to know who is leaking information from your campaign to the press in 2013, please reference this list.

  2. As long as the GOP is in the iron fist of Bob Asher, its candidates will be poorly chosen simply to give Asher’s buddies places to land jobs in campaigns. All Asher’s state candidates lost, Asher’s feuds killed off the Montgomery County GOP organization and ended Republicans chances of ever rising there. Asher’s hooks are so far into Corbett that our governor is nothing but a shill for Asher. Romney’s loss means Asher is here as long as Corbett is. The two are married now because their arrogance together got the GOP slaughtered and they need to watch each other’s backs. One of two things will happen: An Asher detractor will challenge Corbett in the primary and the winner goes on to lose in the general. Or Corbett is unchallenged and loses in the fall. No matter what, Corbett loses because he hitched his wagon to the felon Asher who is only in this game for himself.

  3. Rob: I don’t think you have a very firm grasp of Philadelphia politics or about DeFelice. Any one who can get a credible republican to run against Bob Brady deserves more than just a mention in a top ten list. Look at the district and use some of your analytical skills to reevaluate your position. I think you’ll have a little more appreciation for DeFelice.

  4. Gabba Gabba, I never said his work directly impacts a particular contest’s results. The changes he has brought are structural and organizational in nature, rather than anything directly related to the outcome of any specific election. The focus is on working with the City Commission to ensure a more fair and honest elections process. Google his name and you will see the kind of work he does.

  5. So KM you are saying that it isn’t Joe that’s ineffective, it’s just that his job has no effect on Election Day? LOL.

  6. The two top political operatives in Pennsylvania this year were the architects of the Congressional reapportionment plan, which effectively reduced the Democrats to only five seats despite winning over 50% of all the votes cast in the Congressional elections and obliterated three conservative-moderate Democrats; and Amanda Holt, who was responsible for a three seat gain by the Senate Democrats rather than a virtually guaranteed two seat loss if she hadn’t made a successful argument against the state Senate reapportionment plan.

  7. @Rob, You clearly don’t know what Joe DeFelice’s role within the party is. You’re looking at Featherman’s and Romney’s metrics and blaming Joe for the loss. He’s not a campaign political director with PA Victory. He’s involved in election day operations (mostly legal work, poll watching, etc.). The changes that he has made have been huge. Quit being an internet tough guy who badmouths people anonymously on message boards because you have no idea what you are talking about.

  8. Remember how outraged everyone was about staffers working on politics while on the state clock, and getting taxpayer-funded bonuses for doing it? Or should we say, when non-Senate-Republican staffers were doing that? Some people went to jail, and some, who did the same, built lucrative businesses out of it.

  9. @John Featherman:

    I would be cautious in giving Joe DeFelice and his boss, Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason, too much credit. Based on the FACTS, DeFelice and his work in Philadelphia did nothing to reduce Obama’s victory (in fact, the only change since DeFelice became the PA GOP’s guy in Philadelphia has been the loss of a PA House seat—Denny O’Brien’s former seat). And Rob Gleason predicted Mitt Romney would win Pennsylvania. How did that prediction fare?

    If the Philadelphia GOP has improved under DeFelice, the FACTS don’t show it. But, I suppose you can make that argument, based on your “feelings” and without FACTS, if you believe in “been down so low for so long, everything is up.” You may not like it, but those are the FACTS.

  10. @John Featherman:

    Third, please reference others correctly if you cite their arguments. Nate Silver did NOT call Pennsylvania “a path forward for GOP.” Your selective misquoting demonstrates that you did not bother to read his article (at best), or are being tremendously dishonest (at worst). The verbatim quote from Nate Silver’s article is: “IT WON’T BE EASY, but Pennsylvania HAS BEEN GETTING CLOSER TO THE ELECTORAL TIPPING POINT, and IT REPRESENTS A PLAUSIBLE PATH FORWARD for Republicans.” (emphasis added). If you read the full article, and even merely the full context of that quote, you will notice three considerable caveats. Silver notes getting Pennsylvania to vote Republican (which hasn’t happened in a presidential election in nearly ¼ of a century). Silver also notes Pennsylvania merely is “getting closer to the electoral tipping point.” If you read the whole article, you will note that deals with his elasticity argument, not that it will become a Republican state. Because his analysis is based on a limited set, and Silver notes this, Silver writes the developments merely are “a PLAUSIBLE path.” That doesn’t mean he, or any other person, thinks it will happen, merely that it is “plausible.” If you don’t know what “plausible” means, use a dictionary.

  11. @John Featherman:

    Please wake up and take a deep breath of reality. If Joe DeFelice is “the future of my party [GOP],” I feel bad for the GOP. Let’s take a look at a few indisputable FACTS.

    First, you lost your campaign for the 1st Congressional District by 188,000 votes, 84.9% to 15.1%. If Joe DeFelice is such a great “operative,” why did you lose the Philadelphia portion of the district by a significantly larger % than the Delaware County portion (86.3% to 13.7% in Philadelphia vs. 81.4% to 18.6% in Delaware County)?

    Second, Republican performance in Philadelphia did not increase at the presidential level in 2012 either. In fact, President Obama beat Governor Romney by a larger % in 2012 than President Obama beat Senator McCain in Philadelphia 2008. Obama won Philadelphia 85.3% to 14%, by 467,227 votes in 2012. Obama won Philadelphia 83.1% to 16.3%, by 478,759 in 2008. Obama increasing the % of his win, and taking a smaller raw vote margin by a mere 11,000 votes certainly is not what made Pennsylvania more competitive in 2012.

  12. Some people are on this list just because of their names. Mary Isenhour? and don’t even start on the Republican side. Lots of hot air and drinkers on this list. Seems to be a popularity contest.

  13. Mikus could not deliver anywhere outside of Cambria and somerset in primary, which were obvious wins and he could not even deliver somerset in the general. (Not to mention big losses in Allegheny and Westmoreland). Critz could have gotten the same result and saved himself some money. The only difference being.. Labor ganged up on Altmire in the primary.

    Mike Butler??? I would not put anyone on from Caseys campaign. They ran a very uninspiring race, making very little effort against an unknown candidate.

  14. @ D. Miller. You say Long Nyquist lost all their Senate business? That isn’t true! They had several successful Senate races including Elder Vogel, Dave Argall, and Dominic Pileggi. The three races the Senate did lose this cycle (Pippy, Earll and Piccola seats), Long Nyquist was not involved. Maybe that was the problem! Long Nyquist won four Congressional races including the biggest prize of the cycle… Keith Rothfus. Long Nyquist should most certainly be on the this list of PoliticsPA Top Operatives.

  15. Joe DeFelice is the “operative” who recruited me to run against Congressman Bob Brady in the recent election. After I lost the mayoral primary last year by a mere 64 votes, I was all beaten up and put out to pasture. It was DeFelice who reigned me back in, with a little help from a shy friend. DeFelice is the future of my party, and he earned it the old fashioned way — by putting leather to the pavement, knocking on a lot of doors, and inspiring a new group of young volunteers to do the same. Joe’s results are a PRIMARY REASON why the NY Times 538 blog’s Nate Silver is calling Pennsylvania a “path forward for GOP.”

  16. Long Nyquist lost all their senate business. That’s a pretty known fact in Harrisburg. They charge too much so this isn’t accurate

  17. Yeah geez. Maybe your site would be more interesting if every link on it wasn’t broken. It’s just spamming at this point.

  18. A lot of pro-life candidates did well in this election, too. Many pro-lifers were elected to the Pa. House and U.S. House.

  19. Ok I would give credit to these people if they pulled out any real wins! But Casey won on name again, Kane worked harder and was an attractive woman vs Freed who did nothing and ran on ego. And Critz beating Altmire was due to a lazy campaign. Altmire barely took the time to get signatures let alone run for the office. Critz got smoked hard by Rothfus. The margin was small but it was his biggest loss.

    Critz has no hope in ever winning again. He has left a mess that was worse than Penn State. Critz will never win the women’s vote again!

  • Does the NYC Verdict Make You More or Less Likely to Vote For Trump in 2024?

    • Less Likely (36%)
    • More Likely (34%)
    • Makes No Difference (30%)

    Total Voters: 112

    Loading ... Loading ...
Continue to Browser


To install tap and choose
Add to Home Screen