The political consulting world is evolving and a new generation is emerging. From campaigners focused on the developing craft of data-driven politics to managers rising through the ranks the old fashioned way, we’re confident the 30 operatives who make up C&E’s 2012 class of Rising Stars will have a lasting impact on the campaign world. Since 1988, C&E has recognized up-and-coming political professionals who have made an early mark on the campaign world with this award. Over the years, our Rising Stars have gone on to serve at the highest levels of government and political consulting. Mayors, members of Congress, and presidential advisors can all be found among previous classes of Rising Stars.
Dave Tollaksen, 29, Democrat
Dave Tollaksen grew up in a political family in Wisconsin-one that wasn’t afraid to talk politics at the dinner table. He calls his dad a fiscal Republican, while his mother was the consummate swing voter. His father hailed from a traditionally Republican family, and his mother’s side included plenty of Democrats and union members. “It’s fair to say I heard both sides of the conversation for years,” Tollaksen says.
But it was an internship in 2004 with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that convinced Tollaksen he wanted to make a living in politics. He had been trying to decide between the DSCC and a gig at the Wilson Center. Tollaksen ended up in Oklahoma working on the coordinated campaign for Brad Carson’s Senate race. “Going to a place where Democrats struggle was probably one of the best choices of my political career,” he says. “It forces you to understand the sort of message you need to make Democrats successful in a state like Oklahoma. And you learn the lesson of authenticity.”
After the 2004 cycle, Tollaksen found himself in the same spot hundreds of other Democratic operatives were in-unemployed. With a background in econometrics and game theory from Notre Dame, Tollaksen landed an internship with The Mellman Group. In the years since, he’s worked his way up from intern to senior analyst.
Last cycle, Tollaksen worked two of the country’s biggest Senate races. He handled polling, focus groups, ad testing, and targeting for the reelection efforts of Sen. Barbara Boxer in California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. “We had polling results that were right when everyone else was wrong,” Tollaksen says of Reid’s campaign against Republican Sharron Angle. “I’m more proud of that than anything else we’ve done.”