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  • Writer's pictureMattie Mills

What’s It Like Working on a Presidential Campaign with Ashley Johnson

I interviewed Drake University student Ashley Johnson to hear about her experiences working for the Doug Burgum Presidential campaign. Here’s what she had to say:

Mattie: What made you want to join a presidential campaign, to begin with? 

Ashley: Well, I had only worked in official offices. I was kinda scared of campaigns. But, over the summer, I was working in D.C. and heard that Doug was going to announce. Him being someone I had admired my whole life, I called up my family and was like, how do I end up doing this because I know Iowa is going to be a big deal. So, I kinda put my hat in on a couple of phone calls and had it set up that I was going to be on his team when I came back to Drake, which I was fortunate enough to do. Honestly, he’s just somebody who I’ve always admired, and I never thought I’d have the opportunity to one, work on a presidential campaign, and two, work for somebody who I’ve known my entire life. 

Mattie: What were the challenges of trying to balance school work while working on a campaign? 

Ashley: So, when I first signed on, I committed to twenty hours a week. I had my salary set there and was like, okay, that’s like a part-time job. I am taking twelve credit hours of classes, so I thought it would be fine, and all things considered, it was all fine. But I think the hardest thing was when Doug was here for longer trips, whether it was five days/six days. The fact I would have to be kinda checked out of classes for those times because it was like he was in town, and that was where all my attention was. While he was gone and doing other things, such as being in New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Florida, it was a lot easier as I would be doing event planning remotely, which was nice. But, as soon as he was in town, it was focused 100% on him. For example, I was supposed to be missing class this entire week before finals before he dropped, and I had made arrangements with all my professors not be in school this week. 

Mattie: What was your favorite experience on the road with the campaign team? 

Ashley: My favorite experience on the road, other than just being it… College students don’t really get the opportunity to have one-on-one time experience like that, so I’ll share a few things. The Cy-Hawk game was the first time that I was seeing [Doug] one-on-one. 

Mattie: That is an iconic first meet-up!

Ashley: It was! I had no idea it was happening. Eric Wilson, who is my boss, had said I’ll pick you up, and we’ll drive with the State Troopers (because Doug has State Troopers come down for every event). We were sitting on the tarmac, waiting for his jet for his charter flight to land. He got off the plane, and I was jumping into action, grabbing suitcases and stuff. I said, “Hey, Governor Burgum, I’m Ashley Johnson, I’m a Drake student, and Bruce Johnson’s daughter. I’m on your team now”. And he said, “I remember the day you were born.” And that was like the coolest thing ever. Cause I knew if I said my dad’s name, he would know who I was, but for him to be specific to that point was cool. 

Mattie: That’s amazing!

Ashley: The other cool thing was we were in Iowa City on a trip, and we were going to have breakfast at the Hamberg Inn, which is a big stop for presidential candidates, and there’s a booth named after Reagan that we were sitting in. It was packed that morning, so we were standing outside, and Eric and I had gotten there an hour early to kinda put our names on the list and wait. Eventually, the Governor and the rest of the team show up. I was supposed to advance to our next campaign location, but Dawson, our deputy campaign director, was like why don’t you go sit down and have breakfast with Doug. So, it was less of him working the room (he worked the room after breakfast), but just me and him. So, we sat and talked for an hour and a half, just me and him, about life. So, it was really cool, and I made sure to tell him, “Governor, I don’t think a lot of college students get the opportunity to sit down and have breakfast with a presidential candidate and their home state governor.” He turned it, totally flipped it on me, and thanked me, which was really cool. 

Mattie: How has working on this campaign shaped your affiliation and political preferences? 

Ashley: So my first two years at Drake, I was very intentful in taking a backseat and listening and not being affiliated with parties or kinda ideas. I knew that I was here to learn, and my perspective, coming from a Midwestern state with my family and stuff, was one way and that there were so many other perspectives out there. So, the first two years, it was all about not being affiliated and listening instead of speaking. It was definitely a jump to kinda jump into a presidential campaign, but it was also comfortable knowing it was someone I knew and I wasn’t going to be representing ideas I couldn’t back up myself.


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