Texas Operatives Prominent in 2016 Campaigns

by Abby Livingston and Annie Daniel

April 19, 2015

Texas political operatives have scattered across the country in recent months to sign up with fledgling presidential campaigns. This cycle, no single White House hopeful has the market cornered on them — a departure from 15 years ago, when Texas operatives flocked to Austin and beyond to elect the hometown favorite, George W. Bush, to the presidency.

It is a testament to the state’s size that a native son or daughter is working at the highest level of nearly every presidential team, Democrat and Republican alike.

These are the staffers and advisers — listed by the candidate they're working for — who wield enormous power in the day-to-day mechanics and strategy of each 2016 bid. Some were reared in Texas and now live on the East Coast or are on the campaign trail. Others on this list may not be Texans by birth but are established figures here who spent at least a decade building their names in Lone Star circles.

JEB BUSH

Alison McIntosh

Job: Fundraiser

Current residence: Dallas

Hometown: Grand Prairie

McIntosh is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Texas fundraiser. It’s a familiar role: Her first presidential campaign was President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 re-election effort, and she has rounded up Texas dollars for other state and national Republican candidates. Most recently, she worked for the campaigns of Mitt Romney and John McCain. McIntosh attended Grand Prairie High School, graduated from Southern Methodist University and lives in Highland Park with her family.

TED CRUZ

Jason Johnson

Job: General consultant

Current residence: Driftwood

Hometown: Mount Pleasant

Johnson is Cruz’s chief political strategist. It’s a trust built over the years: He joined Cruz’s political operation at a time when most Texans had never even heard of the future U.S. senator. Prior to Cruz, he was a longtime aide and adviser to future Gov. Greg Abbott. He ran Abbott’s 2002 attorney general race and went on to serve as his chief of staff. Johnson began his career with then-state Senate candidate Todd Staples’ campaign in 2000. He now leads one of the most Texas-centric operative lineups. His team includes native and adopted Texans alike: New Hampshire regional political director David Sawyer, Iowa regional political director Jonathon McClellan and digital strategist Josh Perry.

Chris Perkins

Job: Pollster

Current residence: Austin

Hometown: Houston

Perkins is Cruz’s pollster, a role he also held during Cruz’s 2012 Senate race. It was Perkins’ polling that documented Cruz’s slow uptick from obscurity to his eventual upset of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. As a student at Abilene Christian University, Perkins oversaw a call center that solicited donations from school alumni. That experience laid the groundwork for his telephone survey operation. He spent his early career working for former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and was a leading Republican strategist during the state Legislature’s controversial 2003 round of redistricting.

Catherine Frazier

Job: Spokeswoman

Current residence: Houston

Hometown: Houston

For Cruz’s first two years on Capitol Hill, Frazier was his face to the press corps. She followed him back to Houston earlier this year to play the same role on his presidential campaign. But she was well known in the state and across the nation long before she joined the Cruz team, thanks to her time with another Texas presidential contender, former Gov. Rick Perry. She worked for Perry in Austin for six years, including during his 2012 presidential run. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Frazier attended the same high school as her current boss: Second Baptist in Houston.

John Drogin

Job: PAC executive director

Current residence: Austin

Hometown: New Hope, Ky.

Drogin is the executive director of Make DC Listen, a newly created political action committee that will channel small-dollar donations directly to the campaign. Its stated goal goes beyond Cruz — it will back other conservative candidates — but for now it appears Cruz-centric. Drogin got in on the ground floor of Cruz’s political rise, managing his 2012 Senate campaign. He worked for John Cornyn’s 2002 Senate race and later as a spokesman in his Senate office. A Kentucky native, Drogin was a journalist early in his career.

RICK PERRY

Rob Johnson

Job: Senior adviser

Current residence: Austin

Hometown: Crossett, Ark.

Johnson, a longtime Perry loyalist, is one of the former governor’s closest political advisers. He began the 2012 cycle working on Newt Gingrich’s campaign but rejoined Perry’s political operation as campaign manager in 2011 as Perry moved toward a presidential run of his own. It’s the same role Johnson held when Perry defeated U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary. Besides Perry, Johnson is closely identified with former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He served as Dewhurst’s chief of staff and as a political operative. An Arkansas native, Johnson grew up with family ties to Texas and spent nearly every Thanksgiving as a child in with relatives in Lake Jackson. He moved to the state in the early 1990s and attended Southern Methodist University, where he was student body president.

Margaret Lauderback

Job: Fundraiser

Current residence: Austin

Hometown: Austin

Lauderback is the national finance director for Perry’s political action committee, RickPAC. It’s the same title she held for Perry’s 2012 campaign. Along the way, Lauderback has worked for a who’s who of the modern Texas Republican Party: Perry; Gov. Greg Abbott; former U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Tower; and a super PAC aligned with former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. In several of those organizations, she teamed up with another Texan on this list and in the Perry camp: Rob Johnson. Lauderback has some of the deepest Austin roots on this list: She attended Austin High School and the University of Texas at Austin.

Vinny Minchillo

Job: Media consultant to Perry-aligned Super PAC

Current residence: Plano

Hometown: Plano

Minchillo is the ad maker for the super PAC aligned with Perry, the Opportunity and Freedom PAC. Before that role, he was an operative for the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, and he has done work for U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock. Minchillo grew up in Plano, where he now resides. He is a graduate of Plano Senior High School and the University of North Texas.

CARLY FIORINA

Sarah Isgur Flores

Job: Deputy campaign manager

Current residence: Washington, D.C./Houston

Hometown: Richmond

Flores oversees policy, digital and communications strategy for Fiorina’s team — skills she learned during the 2014 cycle as a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. She actually worked for another presidential contender, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, when he was considering a 2010 run for Texas attorney general. She has also worked for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston. She grew up in Houston and its suburbs: Flores graduated from Memorial High School but spent her early years in Richmond, in Fort Bend County. She later attended Northwestern University and Harvard Law School. These days, Flores splits her time between Washington, D.C., and her home in Houston.

CHRIS CHRISTIE

Kevin Shuvalov

Job: Consultant

Current residence: Houston

Hometown: Hereford

Shuvalov is a Houston-based GOP strategist who will focus on Christie’s direct mail – both fundraising and voter contact. His political career began when he was Karl Rove’s driver during Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. Raised in the Panhandle city of Hereford, Shuvalov and his family moved to the Austin area in his later childhood years, and he graduated from Westlake High School. A George W. Bush presidential campaign alumnus, Shuvalov is not the only Texan in the Christie camp. Dallas-based Ray Washburne is Christie’s finance director, and Christie’s PAC recently hired Upstream Communications, an Austin-based digital firm.

SCOTT WALKER

Jenny Drucker

Job: Fundraiser

Current residence: Washington, D.C.

Hometown: Houston

Drucker’s fundraising firm will lead Walker’s national fundraising effort. To do so, she’ll lean hard on the contacts she made while raising money over the course of several cycles for the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. One of her early brushes with Congress came when Republican Bill Archer, then a U.S. representative, appointed her to the Naval Academy. The Cy-Fair High School graduate did not stay in Annapolis long and transferred to Texas A&M University. In the late 1990s, Drucker interned in Washington for a Democrat but found herself feeling more comfortable among Republicans. After graduating in 1999, she worked for U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, alongside another Texan on this list, Guy Harrison.

Susan Lilly

Job: Fundraiser

Current residence: Austin

Hometown: Nacogdoches

It’s a testament to how important Texas is that Walker hired Lilly earlier this year specifically to be his point person for Texas fundraising. She knows that world well. She counts among her clients House Speaker Joe Straus; Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Justices Phil Johnson and Jeff Boyd; U.S. House Speaker John Boehner; and 11 members of Texas’ congressional delegation. A sixth-generation Texan, Lilly grew up in Nacogdoches and stayed there to attend Stephen F. Austin State University. She got her start as a staffer for Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Williamson and in 1997 started Lilly & Company, a fundraiser for high-profile officeholders in Texas and across the country.

RAND PAUL

Steve Munisteri

Job: Senior adviser

Current residence: Houston

Hometown: Houston

When Paul poached Munisteri for his team, many wondered why the chairman of the Texas Republican Party would be attracted to a Kentuckian when a Texas senator and a former Texas governor were building presidential runs. But Munisteri’s alliance with Paul – and his family – goes back decades. Munisteri founded Young Conservatives of Texas, a college organization, in 1980. Paul joined the group as a Baylor student, and at the same time, Munisteri worked on the campaigns of his father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Munisteri is a Memorial High School graduate who earned degrees from the University of Texas at Austin’s business and law schools.

Vincent Harris

Job: Digital consultant

Current residence: Austin

Hometown: Fairfax, Va.

The work of few Texas operatives will be as closely watched over the next 18 months as that of Harris. The Austin-based online strategist has been a fierce critic of the Republican digital infrastructure, wounding an ego or two along the way. He joined the Paul campaign early – and it was a surprise, given that he previously worked for Cruz and Perry. The northern Virginia native says he was drawn to Texas because of a family tradition: Baylor University. Generations of his family were educated there. After that he worked for both John Cornyn’s and Cruz’s U.S. Senate campaigns. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. Sources tell the Tribune that Harris and his new boss were members – albeit decades apart – of the same secret society at Baylor: the NoZe Brotherhood. Asked if Paul’s time at Baylor factored into his decision to join the team, Harris’ answer was simple. “I bleed green-gold,” he said. “It’s a huge deal.”

BOBBY JINDAL

Guy Harrison

Job: Consultant

Current residence: Alexandria, Va.

Hometown: Highland Park

Harrison is a partner at OnMessage Inc., a polling, consulting and media firm closely aligned with the Louisiana governor. Should Jindal run for president, it’s a safe bet that Harrison will be a central force for the campaign. A native of Highland Park who played right tackle for the Highland Park Scots, he began his political career on Pete Sessions’ failed 1994 House race. Sessions, R-Dallas, won in 1996, and Harrison went on to serve as his chief of staff and followed him to the House Republican campaign arm — the National Republican Congressional Committee — during his boss’ two tours as chairman in 2010 and 2012.

BEN CARSON

Terry Giles

Job: Campaign chairman

Current residence: Houston

Hometown: Houston

Giles is the top man on retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s likely president campaign. Like Carson, he is no political insider. A lawyer, Giles is known as a problem solver when celebrities are in legal trouble. When he was based in California, his clients included comedian Richard Pryor. But then Giles fell in love with his rival counsel during one of the most notorious fights in Texas legal history: the inheritance battle involving Anna Nicole Smith. Giles represented Smith’s stepson, Howard Marshall III, and he eventually wed Kalli O’Malley. He moved to Houston and later became the trustee of Ken Lay’s assets amid the Enron collapse.

RICK SANTORUM

Jessica Colón

Job: Political director

Current residence: Houston

Hometown: Palm Harbor, Fla.

Colón is the political director for Santorum’s organization, Patriot Voices PAC. She handles his candidate endorsements and political strategy. She was Santorum’s 2012 Texas state campaign director and helped raise funds for him nationally. A Florida native, she’s lived in Texas for 16 years. In that time, She was also a senior adviser to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton during his 2014 campaign.

HILLARY CLINTON

Lily Adams

Job: Communications aide

Current residence: Des Moines, Iowa

Hometown: Austin

Iowa proved to be Clinton’s Waterloo in 2008 when caucus-goers cast their lot with Barack Obama. So it’s a sign of the Clinton operation’s faith in the 28-year-old Adams that she’s running its communications in the Hawkeye State. Adams came up through the party ranks working on campaigns in Ohio and Virginia. For the 2014 cycle, she was a spokeswoman at the Democratic National Committee. But she’s not just any young Democrat earning her spurs. In 1988, the late Ann Richards concluded one of the most famous Democratic National Convention keynotes in history by expressing her hopes for her toddler granddaughter’s future. That little girl was Lily Adams. Two years later, Adams’ image was pervasive throughout her grandmother’s successful 1990 campaign for governor. Adams is also the daughter of Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Still, few in Washington, and even fewer in Iowa, are aware of her’ pedigree — thanks in part to the difference in last names, but also because of her low-key disposition.

Roy Spence

Job: Adviser

Current residence: Austin

Hometown: Brownwood

Spence was one of the Clinton-world allies who emerged from the failed 2008 primary race with his reputation intact. There is no indication from the campaign that he will be involved in day-to-day operations, but Democratic sources say he has the ear of both the candidate and her husband. His ties to them go back 40 years – they worked together as co-chairs of George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign in Texas. Spence is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a co-founder of the Austin-based advertising firm GSD&M.

Paul Begala

Job: Senior adviser to Clinton-aligned super PAC

Current residence: Northern Virginia

Hometown: Sugar Land

Begala is a senior adviser to Priorities USA Action, a group that backs Clinton but cannot directly coordinate with her campaign. He was involved with the super PAC last cycle, when it was a vehicle to support President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. This time around, he’ll be working to elect a candidate he has known — and been loyal to — for decades. He was a top strategist on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and eventually worked in the White House. A devoted Longhorn and former University of Texas at Austin Student Government president, he started his political career running the ill-fated U.S. Senate campaign of eventual U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

ELIZABETH CUSTY