Thirteen years ago, Ray Zaborney, at the tender age of 20, was a candidate for the Republican nomination for mayor of Shamokin. Though unsuccessful, his surprisingly strong showing shocked the local political establishment.

Although that was his first and last race as a candidate, it was the first of many campaigns for him. The Shamokin native is now the political expert Republican candidates increasingly turn to for help. He has become a key player in Pennsylvania politics, and his influence is felt throughout the Keystone State and beyond.

In a classic "local boy makes good" story, Zaborney, after a four-year stint working in the Northumberland County controller's office, ended up working as director of research for Mike Fisher's campaign for governor in 2002 and political director for Tom Corbett's attorney general campaign in 2004 before serving as the high-profile campaign manager for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann in 2006.

Now, as founder and manager of the Harrisburg-based State Street Strategies, which he founded in late 2006, Zaborney advises candidates for political office at all levels of government. During the 2010 campaign, the firm has worked with two clients in Northumberland County - Republican legislative candidates Kurt Masser and Chuck Erdman.

Zaborney described Erdman's loss to Lynda Schlegel-Culver in a close race for the Republican nomination in the 108th District as one of his biggest disappointments. "Lynda will be a good legislator," he said. "It's just that Chuck is one of my best friends."

Zaborney's firm is providing extensive assistance to the Masser campaign, including direct mail, production of cable television spots, general consulting and campaign strategy development.

Zaborney said the Masser-George Zalar battle in the 107th District has turned into "one of the biggest races in the state."

"Both campaign committees are spending a lot of money, and both campaigns will begin advertising on television Monday," Zaborney remarked. "In the next month, people are going to see a pretty intense campaign."

Masser said he appreciates the expertise Zaborney's firm has brought to his campaign, "Having Ray involved, with his local knowledge, is certainly a great benefit, also," he said.

According to a written description about his firm provided by Zaborney, State Street Strategies prides itself on being able to handle all the needs of a political client, including general consulting, direct mail programs, phone programs, Internet consulting, oppositions research and television and radio production.

Although Zalar has used print and production firms to provide professional assistance for campaign materials, he said his campaign has not hired a full-service consultant.

Culver has used another Harrisburg firm, LN Consulting, for assistance with mailings and door-to-door materials. However, she decided against contracting with professionals to provide overall campaign organization and management. "I wanted to make sure that local people maintained ownership in the race," she explained.

The media message is something else, however. "The fact is, preparing campaign materials, the door-to-door and mail pieces, is time-consuming for volunteers, and this is time that we just didn't have." She said use of a consulting firm to handle campaign materials took the worry out of the effort, and, in addition, the expertise that was provided guaranteed that the materials were done well.

Tony Michetti, Culver's Democratic opponent, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Zaborney's firm has been involved in the posthumous re-election campaigns of the late Sen. James Rhoades in Schuylkill County and, shortly thereafter, the special election for Rhoades' successor, David Argall. In 2007, State Street Strategies also worked on mailings for the nonpartisan retention campaign of Northumberland County Judge William H. Wiest.

County Congressman Bud Shuster, state Sen. Joe Scarnati and the Pennsylvania Republican Party among Zaborney's clients. Out-of-state clients have included the National Republican Committee, the Maine Republican Caucus, the Republican Party of Virginia and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Besides himself, State Street Strategies is staffed by Zaborney's wife, Jennifer, who joined the firm earlier this year, and two others.

Zaborney said he first got involved in politics in Shamokin because he believes in what the Republican Party stands for. Although he clearly enjoys his growing reputation as a political insider, Zaborney said he is motivated by a desire to elect people who want to put the principles of good government into action.

As a consultant, Zaborney said his role is not to change a candidate's thoughtful and strongly held views on critical issues. "I never tell anyone to change his position, but I try to make sure a candidate shows discipline in the campaign and always stay on message," he explained.

"I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world," Zaborney remarked. "I get paid pretty well to be involved in something I am very passionate about. I started out as just a kid from Shamokin, and now I am living the dream. I never imagined I would be involved at such a high level in political campaigns."