Host, The Rachel Maddow Show
If it feels as if Maddow has been going for years already, that's because she has. Her MSNBC show debuted in 2008, three years after she hosted a left-leaning political talkfest on the now defunct Air America Radio. Jon Stewart may catch more social media buzz, but only because the openly gay intellectual media maven is tougher, more substantive, and less silly. With the election nearly here, Maddow's ratings have spiked, often beating Fox News in her timeslot. And her new book, Drift, held No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for five weeks this year.
Deputy campaign manager, Obama for America
The field-organizing whiz who led the charge for Obama in 2008 battlegrounds is back at it for the President. Inside the reelection campaign's Chicago headquarters, she's chief deputy to top-dog Jim Messina. But her most important charge is readying the ground game in swing states, where Democrats are counting on a superior effort to help them overcome the spending edge Republicans are expected to enjoy.
Campaign manager, Mitt Romney for President
Rhoades has been a diligently low-key, data-oriented operator at the helm of the Romney campaign, just like his boss. An opposition researcher by training, Rhoades is credited internally with keeping the team disciplined through a sprawling primary season. He remains the go-to guy on matters both picayune and profound, so he could expect a major portfolio in a Romney administration -- and more attention, whether he wants it or not.
Ben Smith and Jonah Peretti
Smith, Editor in chief, Buzzfeed
Peretti, Founder, Buzzfeed and Co-founder, Huffington Post
These new media pioneers teamed to create the unlikeliest force in this year's election coverage. Peretti, a master of forging viral content, put Buzzfeed on the map with click-crack photo galleries of cute animals being cute. Smith, a nonstop purveyor of blog-ready scooplets at Politico, brought the political content. With a growing team of reporters in New York and Washington behind them, they are accelerating a media metabolism already on overdrive, commanding attention from political junkies and campaign operatives alike.
Publisher and editor-in-chief, The New Republic
One of the famed four young entrepreneurs that founded Facebook in Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard dorm room, Chris Hughes hasn't dawdled since leaving the burgeoning social network in 2007. Hughes, now 28 and probably worth hundreds of millions despite the social network's stock woes, directed then-long-shot-candidate Barack Obama's online organizing efforts and was credited with helping propel the Illinois Democrat to victory. In 2012 the new-media guru turned his attention to the old, acquiring The New Republic magazine for an undisclosed sum. His plan for the storied left-leaning publication? Doubling down on its rigorous long-form reporting and analysis.
National finance chair, Mitt Romney for President
At 32, Zwick has already spent roughly a third of his life working for the Republican presidential candidate -- starting out, as a BYU undergrad, volunteering for Romney's effort to save the 2002 Winter Olympics, rising to his post today as the campaign's top moneyman. Along the way, Zwick, who has built so much trust with the candidate that some call him Romney's "sixth son," created a national network that helped him launch a private equity firm with one of Romney's real-life sons, Tagg.
Jon Favreau and Ben Rhodes
Favreau, Director of speechwriting, White House
Rhodes, Deputy national security adviser and speechwriter, White House
It's no easy task crafting rhetoric for an expert orator and accomplished writer, but Favreau and Rhodes have had a lot of practice, as they both started out with Obama in his Senate office. Favreau, or "Favs," as the President calls him, takes the lead on every major address from the State of the Union to Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention—a process he's described as a collaborative back-and-forth with his boss. Rhodes, who started on the speechwriting team and now also serves as deputy national security adviser -- and who happens to be the younger brother of CBS News president David Rhodes -- handles the delicate work of framing Obama's foreign policy for an international audience. At a time of hyper-polarization, their work has met with unusual bipartisan consensus: Obama gives a good speech.