While the Boomer generation still controls the halls of power in North Carolina, a new crop of young political stars is already beginning to emerge.

Longleaf Politics set out to recognize rising political stars under the age of 40. We ended up with 54 in the first year — and the list has grown from there.

This list draws from the ranks of elected officials, lobbyists, media members, consultants and fundraisers. The names below are in no particular order.

Think I missed one? Email me at andrew@longleafpolitics.com.

N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson

At age 34, Jackson is the youngest Democratic senator in North Carolina — but is already arguably its most influential. The Charlotte legislator burst onto the national scene on a snowy day in 2015 through his genius use of social media when he was the only legislator in the General Assembly building and has since used the platform to educate his constituents on the issues of the day. Jackson has also been a leading voice on redistricting reform, and he’s now leading the charge to flip Republican seats blue in 2018.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Photo by Jeff Jackson via Facebook

Jonathan Sink

Sink, 33, is staking a claim as one of the top legal minds in N.C. politics.

He made a name for himself as a lobbyist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and then later Mecklenburg County, he’s now deputy general counsel and policy advisor to N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Ebony West

The UNC Masters in Public Administration student is the president of the Young Democrats of North Carolina and currently working with the International City/County Management Association and the university’s Office of Student Life and Leadership.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Patrick Sebastian

Sebastian is a veteran of numerous campaigns at the state and federal level. The 2010 ECU grad is now with Majority Strategies, one of North Carolina’s most powerful mail and digital campaign consulting firms.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Trey Lewis

Lewis became the youngest mayor in North Carolina when he was elected by the town of Macclesfield (Edgecombe County) in 2015 at just 23. He was re-elected this past fall

LinkedIn; Twitter

Trey Lewis, left, with then-Gov. Pat McCrory. Photo via Facebook.

Nation Hahn

Hahn is the chief growth officer at EdNC, a whip-smart nonprofit publication covering K-12 education policy statewide. He’s also super active on nonprofit boards, including the Pamlico Tar River Foundation, Hope Center at Pullen and the Community Leadership Council for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Southern Living named Hahn, 32, a Southerner of the Year in 2016 for his work with the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation, which he launched in memory of his wife.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Amy Chiou

Chiou is the veteran of more than a dozen political campaigns at both the local and national level, plus had a big role in organizing the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. She’s also the founder of WTF We Vote, an organization dedicated to boosting voter turnout in the younger generation.

She later became the executive director of Queen City Forward, boosting social entrepreneurs in Charlotte. She’s since moved to Washington, but we still hold a special place for her in our hearts.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Matt Calabria

In less than a decade, Calabria went from student body president at UNC to Wake County commissioner, advocating for higher pay for county workers and more protections for LGBTQ residents.

He’s been named the “best new liberal lion” by Independent Weekly and is now a candidate for re-election to the Wake County board.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Photo by Matt Calabria via Facebook

Jonathan Kappler

As executive director of the nonpartisan NC FreeEnterprise Foundation, Kappler has carved out a role as perhaps the smartest political analyst in North Carolina, leveraging social media to keep his stakeholders informed in real time on the goings-on in Raleigh.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Irene Godínez

Godínez has run public affairs and legislative efforts for Planned Parenthood and women’s rights as well as public Latino advocacy organizations.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Colin Campbell

Campbell has had a meteoric rise at The News & Observer, moving from the Smithfield bureau to Raleigh city government to becoming its top reporter covering state government. He’s now the editor of N.C. Insider, a mainstay in the capitol.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Tricia Cotham

The 39-year-old Cotham made a name for herself as an even-handed and education-minded state legislator during a decade in the N.C. House. She’s now one of the primary people responsible for building relationships between business in Charlotte and the General Assembly as a VP at McGuireWoods Consulting.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Lawrence Shaheen

Shaheen is the mastermind behind numerous successful Republican campaigns in the Charlotte area, including former District Attorney Andrew Murray and new city councilman Tariq Bokhari. He’s a whiz with hyperlocal data, a regular TV commentator and is now a consultant on U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger’s re-election bid.

LinkedIn; Twitter

[New to Longleaf Politics? Join hundreds of smart North Carolinians reading our weekly newsletter, where we break down what’s really important, without the spin]

Braxton Winston

Winston shook up the Charlotte political scene at age 34 by transitioning from a leading protestor of economic inequality in 2016 to the second-highest vote-getter in the City Council at-large election in 2017. He’s now one of the most vocal voices for change in the city.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Photo by Braxton Winston for Charlotte City Council via Facebook

Seth Crossno

Using the pseudonym William Needham Finley IV on his site ITBinsider.com, Crossno is one of the most insightful commentators in Raleigh. His takes on development have helped shape how the city feels about growth.


N.C. Rep. Chaz Beasley

The 32-year-old attorney won a seat in the N.C. House in 2016 as a political newcomer with a focus on education and bridging the urban-rural divide. The Democrat is now running for a second term representing Mecklenburg County.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Photo by State Rep. Chaz Beasley via Facebook

N.C. Rep. Cecil Brockman

The 33-year-old Guilford County Democrat became the only openly LGBT member of the General Assembly when he announced in 2016 that he identifies as bisexual shortly before he was elected.

LinkedIn; Twitter

N.C. Rep. Justin Burr

The 32-year-old Republican is already in his fifth term representing Stanly and Montgomery counties in the N.C. House. When he was elected at age 23, he was the youngest person in the General Assembly and has since taken on leadership roles on numerous committees.

LinkedIn; Twitter

N.C. Sen. Chad Barefoot

The 34-year-old Republican from Wake Forest is retiring from the state Senate this year after three terms and a big impact on higher education policy.

LinkedIn; Twitter

N.C. Rep. Cody Henson

The Transylvania County Republican won election to the state House two year ago at age 24 and is now seeking his second term. Henson is a Marine Corps Reserve member and was instrumental in securing emergency response training for the National Guard.


Sam Spencer

The Democratic consultant guided U.S. Rep. Alma Adams to victory in a brutal 2016 primary election and led political newcomer Julie Eiselt to being the top vote-getter on the Charlotte City Council. Spencer has also been influential on national-level campaigns, as well.

LinkedIn; Twitter

B.J. Murphy

Murphy was elected the mayor of Kinston in 2009 at age 29 and revolutionized the role through his use of social media. He just barely lost his bid for a third term in 2017, and is now active in the North Carolina Leadership Forum.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Kara Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth is a veteran of President Barack Obama’s campaign operations in North Carolina and formerly the director of recruitment and training with Lillian’s List Action Fund. She’s now the executive director of LEAD NC, recruiting community and civic leaders.


Kara Hollingsworth, center

Nicole Stewart

The 36-year-old won an at-large seat on the Raleigh city council and is development director for the North Carolina Conservation Network.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Photo by Nicole for Raleigh via Facebook

Elizabeth D. Robinson

Robinson has been one of the top lobbyists in Raleigh since the mid-2000s and a former president of the Young Lobbyists Association. She is now the senior director of government relations for the powerful NC Retail Merchants Association.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Jessica Holmes

Holmes was elected chairwoman of the Wake County commissioners in December, becoming the youngest African-American woman to hold the position. She’s been a strong advocate for affordable housing while on the board.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Tom Jensen

As the director of Public Policy Polling, Jensen is perhaps the most influential pollster in North Carolina. He’s also not afraid to throw in a fun question — giving us information like what percentage of North Carolinians have ever taken their shirt off and twisted it around their head like a helicopter.


Ray Martin

The former spokesman for N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger is now the political director of the North Carolina Republican Senate Caucus, which is responsible for research and fundraising support.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Matt Bales

Bales is the political director of the North Carolina Republican House Caucus, where he guided campaigns to victory in 19 of the 21 races he targeted. He’s formerly the executive director of the North Carolina Coalition for Fiscal Health.

[Not getting the Longleaf Politics email newsletter? You’re missing out on 90% of the exclusive news and analysis we produce. Subscribe today (free)]

Seth Dearmin

As chief of staff, Dearmin was one of the first and most influential hires in new N.C. attorney general Josh Stein’s office after guiding him to a tight victory.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Zachary Almond

The Albemarle-based politcal consultant has helped manage campaigns for Richard Hudson, Todd Johnson and Buck Newton.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Mark Johnson

The former schoolteacher was elected the N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2016 at age 33. He’s now embarking on a mission to streamline and improve his department.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Photo by Mark Johnson via Facebook


N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister

The three-term representative from Guilford County is now the majority whip.

LinkedIn; Twitter

N.C. Rep. John R. Bell IV

The 38-year-old Wayne County Republican is the House majority leader.


Tariq Bokhari

Bokhari won an underdog campaign for one of two Republican seats on the Charlotte City Council and has forged relationships across the aisle. He’s an avid podcaster and a leader of the Carolina Fintech Hub.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Dimple Ajmera

Ajmera racked up endorsements from former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl and on her way to becoming an at-large member of the Charlotte City Council.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Photo by Dimple Ajmera via Facebook

Derwin Montgomery

The 29-year-old is fighting to end homelessness in Winston-Salem and has served as a city councilman there since 2009.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Jenna Wadsworth

Wadsworth became the youngest person ever elected to office in North Carolina when she won a seat at age 21 on the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She’s also the co-founder of the progressive New Leaders Council.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Matt Hughes

Hughes has been a mainstay of Orange County precinct-level politics for six years and is now the second vice chair of the N.C. Democratic Party.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Photo by Matt Hughes via Facebook

Catherine Whiteford

Whiteford is a leader of the young conservative movement in North Carolina and the national committeewoman of the North Carolina Federation of Young Republicans

LinkedIn; Twitter

Amanda Eubanks

Eubanks has been the finance director for top Democratic campaigns, including for U.S. Rep. Alma Adams and lieutenant governor candidate Linda Coleman.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Mark Coggins

Coggins ran the campaign of N.C. Rep. David Lewis and is now one of his top policy advisors.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Madeline Keeter

Keeter is governing board manager at Charter Schools USA, one of the top charter management companies in the country, and a leader in the North Carolina Federation of Young Republicans.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Clark Riemer

Riemer is chairman of the state’s Young Republicans and a policy advisor to the General Assembly.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Korey Kiger

The National Guard member is also the assistant director of government relations at North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Leah Burns

Burns is deputy chief of staff to House Speaker Tim Moore and a former staffer to Gov. McCrory.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Aisha Dew

Dew was the state director for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and has been a leader in the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Lorenzo Pedro

Pedro is an advisor on Latino affairs to Gov. Roy Cooper.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Zeb Smathers

The mayor of Canton is also former national committeeman for the Young Democrats of North Carolina

LinkedIn; Twitter

Zeb Smathers, left, with Gov. Roy Cooper

Tori Taylor

The Demoratic political advisor is currently running Kathy Manning’s campaign for U.S. Congress after an impressive stint with the DNC and Center for American Progress. She’s also the former president of College Democrats of America.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Joanne Peters

Peters is back in North Carolina running strategic communications for UNC after working in D.C. at the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services. She was also in charge of communications in the Southeast for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Virginia Reed

The 2016 Appalachian State grad has already become the executive director of the Wake County Democratic Party.


Joe Bost

Bost is a veteran of U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry’s office and now leads government affairs for the Charlotte Chamber. It’s a tough job — navigating the challenges of representing a blue city in a red, mostly rural state.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Tracy Montross

Montross lobbies regionally for one of Charlotte’s most important businesses, American Airlines, and is well-connected in Democratic circles.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Matthew Ridenhour

Even though he just turned 40 before the first version of this list was published, Ridenhour has to be on here. The former Mecklenburg County commissioner is one of the smartest voices in the state’s Republican Party while wildly successful in crossing partisan lines. He’s also a strong proponent of fiscal responsibility in local government.

LinkedIn; Twitter

Join thousands of smart North Carolinians reading the weekly Longleaf Politics newsletter

View previous campaigns.

Homepage photo by Mr.TinDC via Flickr (Creative Commons)


  1. Jordan Shaw is a quiet ‘man behind the scenes’ who was Sen. Tillis’ Campaign Manager and is now a VP with a national political consulting firm. Also add Kim Barnes, who replaces Shaw as Tillis’ State Director and was formerly NCGOP Political Director.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here