Kat Cammack had just come from meeting a big donor in Jacksonville, Florida, and was now in a house with boarded-up windows, rusty frying pans, and what appeared to be human feces on the torn-up couch.
“It was like a redneck party gone wrong,” she told me over a greasy-spoon breakfast on Capitol Hill. “At that point I was ready for someone to sneak up on me and take me out. I was just thinking, 'If I die, I die; it is what it is.'”
“It was the worst conditions imaginable, so I called him back and said I’d take the job.”
Cammack, the blond former pageant girl, just one year removed from being the head cheerleader at her university, was at this house to deliver a Ted Yoho-for-Congress sign. Fortunately for her, the man living there wanted nothing more than to express support for her boss and regale her with stories of his life as a carny and sing her a little opera (she said he had a very nice voice). It was just another day in the life of the only staffer on the Yoho campaign.
In the end, the work paid off. Yoho—who had had no political experience but had been a large-animal veterinarian for 30 years—managed an improbable victory over 12-term Republican incumbent Cliff Stearns. With the election over, Cammack has gone from campaign manager to chief of staff.
Oh, and she’s only 24 years old.
Let’s put this into perspective: The only other political experience Cammack has is an internship in the office of Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., office and some volunteer work here and there for other campaigns, all while she was attending Metro State University in Colorado. There are ways to balance out inexperience in congressional offices. A guy with no political experience can hire a Hill vet to help guide him through his first years, or a longtime lawmaker can hire a young chief of staff to inject some new ideas into a stagnating office. Yoho's office decided to just double down on the inexperience.
What we have here, some would argue, is the blind leading the blind. Cammack knows that people think she might be in over her head, but she doesn’t pay it much mind.
“People think I’m naive, and a lot of people want to see me fail,” she said. “But that was true in the campaign; we were so written off. We weren’t even mentioned in most stories about the four-way primary. And we saw how that went.”
Cammack has been through enough in her life for the job to seem a bit less daunting. When she was 17, her mother—who Kat calls an incredible mom—went to jail for driving while under the influence, leaving her daughter to take care of the family headstone business and pay the mortgage on their 55-acre ranch.
And shortly after she graduated from college, her family home was bought out from under her, forcing Cammack, her sister, and her mother (now out of jail) to move into a $179-a-week extended-stay home that they affectionately called “the crack house.”
It was then that she got the call from a friend asking if she wanted to do some work on his uncle’s campaign down in Florida.
“I Googled him, saw a terrible website, and saw that he was going against a 12-term congressman with millions in the bank,” she said. “It was the worst conditions imaginable, so I called him back and said I’d take the job.”
She didn't get it at first. That's because Yoho's wife, Carolyn, checked out her Facebook page and was led to believe the young lady was a stripper (Cammack had participated in a charity bikini runway walk and the posted the pictures online). But after an extensive cleanup of her profile, and glowing references, Cammack was hired to do social-media work for the campaign.
Three weeks later, she had already replaced the chief of staff, and she remained the only full-time staffer for the entirety of the campaign. Her rise from nowhere to running a congressional office follows a similar arc as her boss’s. So it’s of little surprise that she sounds a lot like him when she talks about the job.
When I went down to Florida to report on the campaign for The Atlantic, Yoho told me that he was going to “change the game,” and Cammack believes they really can.
“I don’t care if things have been the same here for decades,” she said. “My motto is to go big or go home. I didn’t come up here to be like any other chief, I didn’t come here to fall into the crowd.”
Yoho stood out with his very first vote as a member of Congress, when he cast his ballot for Eric Cantor to be House speaker rather than John Boehner. But if Cammack had her way, he may have stood out even more.
“The idea got kicked around the office that he should vote for himself as speaker,” she said. “He said he didn’t think he could do it. But I was like, “Hell, yeah, let’s go for it.' "
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