Dylan Wells Is Bringing Gen Z Along With Her on the Campaign Trail

Inside a day in the life of a Washington Post presidential campaign reporter.

10 mins read

It’s 5 a.m. on a mild February morning in South Carolina, and Dylan Wells is already dressed and tuning into her first call of the day. She’s on speaker with her editor as she brushes her hair and applies her makeup, plotting out the long day ahead. Last week it was South Carolina; this week it’s Michigan–then on to Idaho and Missouri. She’s following close on the heels of presidential candidate Nikki Haley as the former governor battles Donald Trump for her place on the 2024 Republican ticket. 

Wells, who is 26, works as a campaign trail reporter for The Washington Post, where her assignment since Jan 1 has been tracking Haley’s relentless campaign. While she’s at it, Wells is also doing her part to help the newspaper of record reach a younger, broader Gen Z audience. 

Art credit: Dominique Greene

Born in Portland, Oregon, Wells did not grow up planning to be a journalist. As a girl, she dreamed of a role in politics, but Wells found her calling when, as a student at the University of Chicago, she decided to write for The Gate, an undergraduate magazine covering local and national politics. That led her to an internship at ABCNews followed by a stint covering Congress at USA Today – and on to her role as a young campaign reporter at The Washington Post

The campaign cycle is unpredictable, and so is Wells’s schedule. “Being a campaign reporter entails never having any idea what the next day is going to look like,” Wells joked. “Since the start of the year, I’ve been traveling pretty much every day tracking the Nikki Haley campaign.”

While there’s no typical day in the life for Wells, her weeks can often include countless hours of traveling, numerous pit stops at events and rallies, and a multitude of conversations with residents in neighborhoods across the country. “Today in South Carolina, [Haley] has a bus tour stop and then a rally,” Wells explained. “Yesterday, I drove six hours across the entire state of South Carolina. There’s also a lot of meeting and talking to new people, which is the thing I enjoy most about the job.” 

These drives can be draining, but Wells makes the best of it. Often, she’ll take advantage of the hours-long travel to check in with her loved ones, and she also loves to listen to music playlists. Whether it’s her favorite artist Taylor Swift or high-energy playlists to keep her going when the road gets tough, music helps keep Wells calm and sane—as much as you can be in these circumstances.

Still, connecting with voters isn’t easy. As the political climate becomes more polarized, many voters have become distrustful of mainstream media—leaving Wells with the difficult task of finding interviewees who will confide in her. “This primary cycle has been interesting because there are a lot of traditional GOP voters who are participating in the primary and are at these events, but don’t trust the media as much,” Wells said. “It’s always about trying to connect with these people.”

For many voters, media coverage is the only outlet they have to gain a sense of a candidate’s policies. As such, Wells plays a crucial role in covering the topics and stories that are important to voters. “I’m thinking about [finding] the questions that voters will care about and the things that matter to people,” Wells described.

Yet the day isn’t over, even when the traveling is done. Next comes writing an article about the day’s new developments. Wells’s coverage is vibrant and expansive, covering not only major speeches or landmark votes, but also taking deep dives into broad trends characterizing the election cycle. “I love doing those voter type of stories where it’s more about identifying a trend and having an interesting conversation with a voter where they might bring up some idea you haven’t thought about before,” Wells said. Inspiration for these articles can come from anywhere—Wells, a lifelong Swiftie, investigated Haley’s popularity among young girls after noticing Haley’s Eras-style friendship bracelets.

Naturally, this work can be stressful, but Wells does what she can to take time for herself. When she’s not strolling around D.C. with her dog Wasabi, Wells escapes the way so many of us do – with reality shows on Netflix, or comfort shows she’s watched a million times. Campaign reporting can be a romanticized job, though, so—with “Girls on the Bus” coming out soon, which covers the campaign trail—Wells is planning to watch the show with her friends to determine its accuracy. 

Before tracking Haley, Wells has covered the campaigns of several candidates previously vying for the nomination, including Florida governor Ron Desantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. Each candidate had their own methods of campaigning and goals they wished to achieve. “Some of the candidates who didn’t enter with the same amount of name ID have approached [campaigning] completely differently,” Wells told me. “[Ramaswamy’s] campaign was all about doing a lot of media access, which was very different than a lot of Republican campaigns operate.”

Through talking to voters at events across the country, Wells has gained a sense of many political trends—most notably, the great role that Gen Z could play in upcoming elections. “For young people to turn out and vote, that has the possibility to actually sway some of these races,” Wells emphasized. “The generation has already proven in the last several elections the impact they can have when they show up to vote.”

Inspired by Gen Z’s potential, Wells began working on The Washington Post’s Next Generation initiative, which attempts to inspire Gen Z to follow the news and become a more informed generation. Rather than simply analyzing voter patterns, the initiative emphasizes talking to youth voters and discovering the issues that matter to them. “Anytime we can check in with young people around the country and get a sense of the issues that matter most to them is great,” Wells said. “I want to do even more of that in the next year.”

Wells sees student journalism as a great way to participate in democracy, and encourages young reporters to go local. Even as a budding journalist, Wells was able to explore the national stories she wished to cover—just on a local scale. “Regardless of what publication you’re writing for, try to think about the sort of stories you would ultimately like to do,” she told me. “Then, try to think about how you can do some version of that in your current capacity.”

To close off, Wells enumerated that there’s no right or wrong way to get into politics. Social media has become ever-prominent, and it’s important for media companies to utilize these networks—meeting people where they’re at—rather than closing the door on a potential audience. 

“As they’re coming of age, we need to take Gen Z seriously. We need to make sure that we’re keeping tabs on the really interesting political stories that are happening within the generation.”

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