SALT LAKE CITY — Kathie Allen still marvels at the week she spent in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1970s as an employee of a newly elected California representative.
Allen recalled being introduced to George H.W. Bush, who later became president, on an elevator, and seeing late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy in action on the Senate floor.
"I really, really didn't want to go home and work in the district office," said Allen, who's making her first run for public office as the Democrat in Utah's 3rd Congressional District race. "But I wasn't bold enough in those days to say, 'Oh, please keep me here.'"
Instead, Allen returned to the San Bernardino area to handle constituent services for the Republican congresswoman, then went to work for a housing and community development program before heading to medical school.
Watching her father, a doctor, struggle with an addiction to prescription drugs, Allen said it took some time for her "to decide for sure that I could still be a physician and balance my life. Because that's always been extremely important to me."
Balance for Allen meant moving to Utah for her medical residency and building a life that has included performing Balkan music at the 2002 Winter Games and being married nearly three decades to a now-retired Utah Symphony percussionist.
"I just thought that it was a good fit for me. I just wanted a change in my life, and I loved the mountains," the Cottonwood Heights physician said.
Living in Utah also allowed her "to establish who I was very independently."
The woman who was too shy to speak up for a job she wanted in Washington decades ago decided to make her own bid for Congress earlier this year, even before then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced he was leaving office before his term ended.
"I was appalled by the election of Donald Trump. I was not happy with Jason Chaffetz," Allen said, noting that she was among those booing Chaffetz at a raucous town hall meeting in February after he said he backed Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Allen hadn't planned on launching her campaign right away, but then responded via Twitter to a statement made by Chaffetz in March suggesting Americans should pay for their health care rather than buying the latest cellphone.
Her tweet, which included a link to a fundraising page, attracted plenty of attention from the likes of comedian Rosie O'Donnell and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, and quickly resulted in several hundred thousand dollars in contributions.
Suddenly, the story of a Democrat in a Republican-dominated state taking on a sitting congressman who was the chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was everywhere.
"It was an accidental piece of luck," Allen said of interviews that ranged from the New York Times to Vogue. "That was an exciting time. But it was also rather overwhelming."
The reaction that surprised her most came from fellow Democrats, she said. Allen did not face a primary election after winning her party's nomination at the state Democratic Party convention in June.
"I was taken aback by how much, instead of a feeling of happiness that a Democrat finally got funded well, that there was just so much push from people on the left that I go more left, or more moderate, or more this or that," Allen said.
Win or lose Tuesday, Allen said she's proud of her campaign. The focus has been on what she knows best as a family doctor for 30 years: health care. Allen supports what she calls Medicare for all, as well as legalizing medical cannabis.
"Whether this country is ready for universal health care just yet, I don't know. But I really do believe it will happen," she said, crediting millennial voters. "I see a force coming for change, and I want to be on the right side of history."
Her first run for political office, Allen said, has taught her to take criticism in stride.
"I had a pretty tough skin to start out with because any physician who listens to tragic stories day in and day out has to build some kind of objectivity or they're just overwhelmed by human tragedy," she said.
As a candidate, Allen said she's learned to tune out detractors who see all Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals, closely aligned with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.16 comments on this story
"You know what? I'm actually pretty fiscally conservative," Allen said with a laugh. "I ran a business for over 20 years, and I know what happens when you're in the red."
Residence: Cottonwood Heights
Political experience: Worked for a California congresswoman out of college, held leadership roles with the Salt Lake Medical Society and the Utah Medical Association, and founded the Fair Redistricting Caucus of Utah as a Facebook group opposed to gerrymandering earlier this year.