SALT LAKE CITY — Bill and Ted played an integral role in shaping how Jenny Wilson thinks about politics.
No, not those loveable slackers who travel through time assembling historical figures for their high school history presentation in the 1989 science fiction film, "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure."
Bill, in this story, is Bill Orton, the late three-term Democratic Utah congressman for whom Wilson worked as chief of staff.
Ted is her father, Ted Wilson, who served as Salt Lake City mayor for nine years and ran Democratic campaigns for U.S. Senate and Utah governor.
Jenny Wilson, 53, recalled being in her dad's office one day as a 10- or 11-year-old during a meeting with the police chief over violence at a gay bar. The mayor, she said, told the chief it had to stop.
"I remember that day how I felt and how my dad handled that and it became, I think, really very key to my sort of advocacy and my interest in serving the community," she said.
Orton's influence on her was more "tactical," she said. Wilson gained an understanding of the ins and outs of Congress while working for Orton in Washington, D.C., which she said has helped her draft her own policy proposals.
Wilson said she believes it's critical for the state to have a Democrat in its congressional delegation, which has had six Republicans since 2014. She said she expects the political pendulum to swing back and forth for the rest of her lifetime.
"None of us know what’s around the corner," she said. "We need to have someone on other side of the aisle to fight for Utah."
Wilson and Republican Mitt Romney are seeking to replace retiring seven-term GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch. Constitution Party candidate Tim Aalders, Libertarian Craig R. Bowden and Independent American Reed C. McCandless are also on the ballot.
A Salt Lake County Council member since 2005, Wilson said she strives to be a people person and bridge builder like her dad. She has worked across the aisle on ethics reform and open space preservation. She pushed through an initiative to provide health benefits to the partners of LGBT county employees, and co-founded the Jordan River Commission, which works to preserve, protect and responsibly develop the river corridor.
It took Wilson three tries to get the domestic partner benefits ordinance passed.
"She would not back down," said her husband of 18 years, Trell Rohovit.
Rohovit described Wilson as a tireless and compassionate advocate for the community who wants to connect with and understand people. Win or lose, he said, she pushes ahead with what she believes is right.
"She is tough as nails. She will not be bullied," he said.
Sandy City Councilman Chris McCandless said he has worked with Wilson on a variety of issues, including open space preservation. The two of them formed the Jordan River Commission a few years ago.
"We just got tired hearing people talk about some day the Jordan River Parkway is going to connect from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake," he said at a Wilson campaign event.
McCandless said the trail is now linked largely due to Wilson's efforts to pass open space bonds and work in a bipartisan way.
"Even though I'm a Republican, I stand side by side with Jenny as she has with me on numerous issues," he said.
McCandless said it's not about which party people belong to, but it's about the "American party," and Wilson can bring both sides together in Utah and Washington.
Despite her busy schedule, Wilson is a "fantastic" mother to the couple's two boys, Zach, 16, and Max, 13, Rohovit said. Her work ethic and dedication to public service sets an example for their sons, he said. They understand her commitment and gain from it.
"Win or lose, her kids are already really impressed with her. They understand you can't win if you don't try," Rohovit said.
Washington, Wilson said, needs a new generation of leaders who understand what is going on at the local level, adding she has spent her "entire adult life" working on issues.
"To me, this is just about who will best serve our state," she said.
As a fifth-generation Utahn who is a descendent of Orson Pratt, an early apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wilson said she has a great connection to the state.
"I take that heritage as a source of pride, and I really felt that is what brought me into this," said Wilson, who was raised in the faith but is no longer practicing.
Like her father, the East High School and University of Utah graduate (she also has a master's of public administration from Harvard) now finds herself facing an uphill battle running for Senate in the heavily Republican state against its favorite adopted son, Romney.
When she jumped into the race more than a year ago, Wilson figured she'd be taking on a "wounded" Hatch, who hadn't yet decided to retire and whose popularity was slipping, or running for an open seat. Ted Wilson lost to Hatch in 1982.
Wilson acknowledged that after Romney filed to run in February, her campaign "felt somewhat impossible" at first. But, she said, she didn't expect people on doorsteps to question why Romney would run and whether he's a Utahn.
"The more people are hearing from me, the more we see people moving my way," she said.
Wilson, who was the first woman elected to the Salt Lake County Council, would also be the first female U.S. senator from Utah should she win next month.
Rohovit said Wilson would bring a wide spectrum of the state's needs to Washington and battle to improve Utahns' lives, both urban and rural, on issues such as opioid abuse, the environment, jobs and social justice.
To have that opportunity, though, Wilson needs to make up a wide margin in the polls.
Wilson said her political experience, heritage and connection to Utah and its residents provides a great foundation for her to serve in the Senate.
"I think I can rely on that. It’s also something I think will serve me well if I win this election," she said after last Tuesday's debate. "I feel very empowered to be standing here with a month to go, and I feel like I’m a good choice."
Where she stands
Comprehensive, compassionate and family-centered reform, a path to citizenship for DACA "Dreamers."12 comments on this story
Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid
There are ways to reform and save money but not on the backs seniors and poor people.
Reform the Affordable Care Act but continue to cover pre-existing conditions and children up to age 26 on their parents' insurance.
Challenge now is to balance defense spending and diplomacy. Diplomacy is missing with President Donald Trump.
Congress far too willing to let president have his way on "reckless" policy that is hurting workers and agriculture.