Ally Isom was no longer comfortable on the sidelines. In July, the former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Gary Herbert and executive for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that she was running for the U.S. Senate.
In her race for the seat currently held by Republican Sen. Mike Lee, she is the novice candidate. But while it is the first time Isom has had her name on the ballot, she has worked in Utah politics for decades as part of Herbert’s team.
On Thursday, Isom spoke with a group of college students at the Provo City Library to discuss herself, the race and the future of the Republican Party. The students brought a range of experiences to the discussion, asking the candidate about her positions on everything from national security and the economy to electoral challenges and voter turnout.
She boasted about her campaign’s “Walk a mile” program, which has Isom — in her now-signature red running shoes — walk through communities and talk to residents of the state.
“I’m committed to spend time with local community leaders, entrepreneurs, PTA presidents — people who are in touch with their communities,” Isom said.
“When I’m talking to real Utahns and asking what’s top of mind, they don’t bring up culture wars, they don’t bring up future presidential nominees. They’re talking to me about water, affordable housing, smart growth and infrastructure. They’re talking about affordable child care, the morale of law enforcement, these are the things that are top of mind to them — they’re my priorities.”
Isom brought up her experiences walking through Woodruff, Kanarraville and other rural towns, learning from the people she’s meeting with about what can be done to make their lives better.
The campaign to unseat the two-term Lee would be, Isom acknowledges, an uphill battle even without other notable people throwing their hats into the ring. Former state Rep. Becky Edwards and former presidential candidate Evan McMullin are also vying for the seat.
This has not deterred Isom, and has given her an opportunity to show why she is an alternative to Lee.
“I think my qualifications differentiate me. I’ve had extensive public policy experience in both state agencies and the governor’s office where we grappled with some of the largest issues the state tackles. I worked for a very large, global nonprofit where I learned what matters to everyday humans all over this world and then I spent time in the private sector,” Isom said.
She added that her time as the acting executive officer, chief strategy and marketing officer of EVŌQ Nano gave her another perspective from the business world. The experience balancing a budget while working with the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration sets her apart from all others in the race.
More than a cluster of policies, Isom emphasizes that she is running for the Senate to make a difference in the lives of average people. While many of her views fall in line with traditional conservative values, she believes the party has room to grow in other aspects.
“I’m a big believer in a big tent party. I think the party has been polarized by personalities and culture wars and those are enormous distractions,” Isom said. “I see the future of the party as endangered if we do not pivot right now and find a way to model a more civil, more inclusive way of problem solving. We have to get back to our core principals of limited government.”
She added that this divisiveness and the deviations from traditional Republican principles, namely small government, have lead to national problems.
“While we’re fighting amongst ourselves, Democrats are growing government exponentially and endangering our future with this crazy amount of national debt — which, by the way, Republicans hold responsibility for as well,” Isom said.
One of the students asked Isom directly about the path the Republican party has taken in the past decade, referencing the RNC Autopsy of the 2012 presidential election, saying that he and other young conservatives feel the party is “leaving us.” He named climate, health care costs, inflation and more issues that they feel are ignored by the party as a whole. Another added that, as an LGBT young person, he has felt disregarded by the Republican Party and wanted to know if Isom feels he has a place in the party.
“As long as I’m there, there is. Absolutely. I’ll stand with you all day long,” Isom said.
She also told the story of her decision to run. When, on Jan. 4, a friend suggested that she run for the Senate. And another friend made the same suggestion the next day, and ultimately the next while she watched the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
From that point, Isom felt it was her responsibility and duty to get into the race.
On Friday, Isom’s first financial report was released with the Federal Election Commission. According to the report, she has received $312,018.43 from individual contributions and loaned $100,000 from herself to the campaign. The listed information is raw data, which, according to the FEC, means it is pulled directly from the campaign committee filings and has not been coded by the government agency.
Notable campaign contributors include former Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller, business leaders Steve Starks and Alan Ashton, along with Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton, former Utah House of Representatives speaker Nolan Karras, author Rosemary Card and Utah State University Deputy Athletic Director Jerry Bovee, among others.
“I hear from county leaders, I hear from city leaders when they go talk to the incumbent. It’s ‘I don’t do local issues,’ it’s ‘I won’t get in your way.’ But that’s not a solution. Only part of what a member of our delegation — our senator — does is vote on bills. The other big chunk is finding solutions for Utahns. I know my track record shows I get stuff done, I bring people together, I do it with integrity and principle,” Isom said. “I think that’s what’s resonating with people; they’re ready to move forward. We’re done fighting.”
Isom needs 28,000 signatures to have her name on the ballot.