When former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert considered a run for Congress in 1994, he called his friend, Bud Scruggs, and asked him to come on board and run his campaign.
Scruggs declined. “You know, I’ve just been hired on as a BYU professor, and that’s going to be my thrust for the next while,” Herbert recalls Scruggs saying. “But I’ve got a young person that you might want to meet.”
Scruggs taught a course on campaign management at BYU, and one of his political science students came to mind. He approached Ally Isom, a recent BYU graduate, and asked if she’d be interested in working on a campaign.
Isom happily volunteered. When Herbert decided to abandon his bid for Congress and instead run for Utah County commissioner, Isom and her husband, Eric Isom, co-managed his campaign. It was the first step in a long relationship with Herbert, who later hired Ally Isom as his deputy chief of staff.
Ally Isom, who now seeks to win a GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate, draws her earliest connections to electoral politics and campaigns to BYU, where she spent four years studying political science.
“My time at BYU cemented in me a sense of civic responsibility — where much is given, much is required,” Ally Isom said. “You’re required to give back in ethical and meaningful ways.”
Ally and Eric Isom first met in professor David Magleby’s Political Science 110 class. Magleby was a Democrat, and Ally and Eric Isom were both conservatives. “I joke that it took a Democrat to bring two Republicans together,” Eric Isom said.
“Ally, in particular, stood out as one of the very strong students,” Magleby, now an emeritus professor, said. “She was probably top 3%, based upon her performance.”
Eric and Ally Isom married and welcomed their first child, Alyssa Isom, while Ally Isom was still an undergraduate. At times, Ally Isom would bring her baby daughter to class with her, recalled Quin Monson, a classmate of Ally Isom’s and a current political science professor at BYU. “What that told me about Ally is that she was going to come to class, whether she had a babysitter or didn’t,” Monson said while introducing Ally Isom to a group of students in 2019. “It gives you a sense of her commitment to her own education and her career path.” Monson has conducted polling for the Ally Isom campaign through his private firm.
In addition to studying and raising her daughter, Ally Isom worked multiple jobs and served as Relief Society president in her local Latter-day Saint ward. She worked a telemarketing job, at a cafeteria on campus and as an assistant for a periodontist. Wendy MacFarland, who worked as a manager at Sears Tele-catolog in Provo, met Ally Isom at church and invited her to give frequent trainings to her employees on communication skills, leadership and delegation. “(My employees) loved it,” MacFarland recalled. “She was an excellent teacher.”
Heather Simonsen, a friend during Ally Isom’s college years, spoke of her ability to balance her studies, being a mother and her church responsibilities. “Alyssa was always her focus,” Simonsen said. “And yet she still did her calling so well, and managed school so well.”
On multiple occasions, Ally Isom has given speeches in which she’s referred to her “Plan B.” She originally planned to attend Northwestern University; she instead went to BYU. She married Eric Isom, a “Jimmy Stewart-type Idaho farm-boy,” as she describes him, after her freshman year, instead of after law school, as she’d planned.
“When (Ally) and I met, there were individuals that were concerned if we got married, that she would not finish school,” Eric Isom said. “The same thing when Alyssa was born. And I think that gave her additional incentive or motivation that she would prove them wrong.”
Ally Isom immersed herself in the real-world experiences offered to political science students. On Election Night 1992, she worked as a “regional analyst,” pairing with statistics students to predict that night’s races. She made an appearance on BYU’s in-house news station to analyze the U.S. Senate race in Illinois, won by Carol Moseley Braun, the first African American woman elected to the Senate.
“She was always positive,” Magleby recalled. “Dependable and positive. And you come to appreciate that in the classroom.”
Former governor Herbert, who has relationships with all three GOP candidates, has declined to make an endorsement in the race, but he says, “(The Isoms) have been friends and acquaintances and helpers for some time.”
When that first opportunity came to work on the Herbert campaign, the Isoms jumped. Ally Isom was pregnant with their second child at that time, and their oldest was a toddler. The three-year-old, Alyssa, would come to campaign events and offer her endorsement to attendees in toddler-talk: “Gawy Hewbewt fow Congwess.”
Brigham Tomco contributed reporting.