One floor above a shuttered credit union branch in downtown Harrisburg, leading political minds are coordinating campaign events and advising candidates on final messaging efforts to reach voters before the fall election.
That second-floor office in a nondescript building at 403 N. Second St. houses not one but four intertwined businesses that provide everything from campaign consulting and fundraising for politics and nonprofit organizations to government relations and lobbying for issue-based groups.
There also is an in-house design studio that processed about 1,000 campaign mailers this year.
Much of that work is for some of the Republican Party's top elected officials at the state and federal levels, including gubernatorial candidates, spanning 11 states this election cycle.
“I raise it, he spends it,” said Jen, the daughter of Mark Holman, a longtime senior adviser and business partner of former Gov. Tom Ridge.
At last count, their database had nearly 250 clients, many recurring. That included about 100 political races and advocacy campaigns in this last cycle alone.
“It never stops,” Jen said in early October, with Ray running late after being called to the Senate to discuss a ride-sharing bill involving the firm's client, Uber. Meanwhile, she was in “crunch time” with the coordination of candidate fundraisers and donor meetings, working to maximize campaign funds for Republican candidates.
The summer acquisition of Pathfinder Communications has only bolstered the Zaborneys' stock in GOP circles. Their staff has grown to 18 people from three over the last four years.
Red Maverick now has offices in Malvern, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Maine.
For 38-year-old Ray, the path to leading political strategist began in Shamokin, Northumberland County.
As he was growing up, his mother worked at a cabinet factory and chicken plant. The family lived paycheck to paycheck.
“It would have been hard to characterize us as middle class. I learned to take opportunities when you have them,” he said. “You won't get anything if you don't work hard.”
He spent four years in the Northumberland County controller's office when the opportunity to work on Mike Fisher's 2002 gubernatorial campaign came his way.
His mother cried, he said, and thought he was crazy to leave a “lucrative and safe job” that paid about $22,000. But a driven Ray went for it.
He served as director of research on Fisher's campaign, which ended in a loss to Democrat Ed Rendell. He would later serve as campaign manager for Lynn Swann's 2006 gubernatorial bid, which also concluded in a loss to Rendell.
“Ed Rendell beat me twice (for governor). That is always going to eat at me,” Ray said.
The close races and losing efforts are always a little easier to recall for the campaign consultants and managers.
“If you win, people think you're a genius. If you lose, they think you're an idiot,” he said. “But you're the same person in each race.”
Ray and Jen met on Tom Corbett's first campaign for attorney general in 2004.
They married in 2007, and Jen joined Ray in business by 2010. That was on the heels of a five-year stint as finance director and executive director of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, where she helped the committee raise millions of dollars and protect the Republican majority.
She was deputy finance director for Corbett's 2010 gubernatorial campaign and Central Pennsylvania finance director and consultant in his recent re-election bid.
“It's all about relationship building,” said Jen, who recalls countless political discussions at the dinner table and going on door-to-door stops with her father during Ridge's campaigns.
She said she learned from her father to “do what you love and the rest will come.”
The Zaborneys cite hard work and being straightforward with clients as reasons for business success. They take pride in understanding the message and relaying the story. And they invest the time in issues they are passionate about — from anti-discrimination measures to education reform.
Pushing each other
“Real-time responses, that's what you get,” said Virginia state Sen. Bryce Reeves, who defeated a 28-year incumbent in 2011 with the help of Red Maverick Media. “Messaging is important and how you frame that message.”
In today's political world, consultants and campaign managers need to move and respond as fast as technology, he said.
“The battlefield has changed and they've been able to adapt and change with it,” said Reeves, who is already working with Ray and partner Mike Leavitt to prepare for re-election. “There are two things a candidate should be doing — shaking hands and meeting voters and raising money. Everything else should be done by the campaign manager, driven by the consultant.”
Ray gives credit to Jen's toughness and how she pushes him, even as schedules and client demands rise.
“It's great to work with someone who inspires you. You trust them,” he said. “I'm much better at everything I do since we partnered. Jen gives me tremendous confidence and always lets me know I can do it.”
Being in business together has also made their personal lives better, Jen said, because they see each other more.
At the end of the day, the goal is not to be the biggest firm but the best, they said. They expect continued growth in Pennsylvania politics — mainly because this is their home — but also at the federal level.
“We'll (continue to) build the team around us. And then it's all hands on deck to get it done,” Jen said.
If they want the national notoriety, they are “certainly on their way,” added Corky Goldstein, a longtime Harrisburg attorney who has worked in city and state administrations over the last several decades.
He has known Jen since she was a young girl.
“They have certainly made a niche for themselves in state politics and in different races,” he said. “And they are young. They still have more to go. They will do it.”
About Jen Holman Zaborney and Ray Zaborney
Married: Nov. 10, 2007
Ages: Jen, 33; Ray, 38
Businesses: Red Maverick Media, State Street Strategies, JHZ Consulting and The 401 Group
Education: Jen received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Penn State. Ray attended Bloomsburg University but left school before graduating. He is a couple of credits shy of a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in communications and said he plans to finish next year.
Children: Grace, 9 months
Residence: New Cumberland
Organizations/hobbies: Jen is on the board of TheBurg and an appointed member of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She also volunteers and helps with fundraising for the Cumberland County Republican Committee. She enjoys spending time with family, painting, jogging and traveling. Ray is on the board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He enjoys reading, traveling, the Pittsburgh Steelers and going to concerts. His favorite artists are Kenny Chesney and Jay-Z.
Advice they like to give: “Do something you are passionate about and don’t focus on money. Money will take care of itself.” —Ray
“You can’t control what others say and do. All you can control are your actions, so do your best and be honest. Being straightforward will take you a long way.” —Jen