Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who officially jumped into the presidential race Thursday, could point to an experience dealing with some conservative Utahns to show that he has deft diplomatic skills.
The liberal Eastern Catholic Democrat married into a family of LDS Utah Valley Republicans, "and we all love him. We think he's great," says his brother-in-law, Dr. Michael L. Clegg, who now is among very few Utahns (along with four sisters) who can say they have an in-law running for president.
Dodd is married to Orem native Jackie Marie Clegg, who was an aide for 10 years to former Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah. She also was a top official at the Export-Import Bank, formed her own lobbying and strategic planning firm, and is on several boards of national corporations.
Along with Ann Romney, wife of presumed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Clegg is now among two women with Utah and LDS Church ties in the running to become the first lady of the United States. And, interestingly, both are now New Englanders.
Michael Clegg, a physician now living in Logan, says it was interesting to watch "this liberal Eastern senator visit my family, which is pretty conservative — although my mother was a Democrat" as he dated his sister over several years.
"My dad (Carl Clegg) was probably the most staunch Republican in all of Utah Valley," which is known for having maybe the most staunch Republicans in all of America, Dr. Clegg says.
"My dad was maybe the most hesitant of the family" to embrace Dodd. "But my dad couldn't find any way not to like him. He impressed my dad. He (Dodd) was always very straightforward and respectful. He's always treated my sister well. And my dad and all of us grew to love him," Dr. Clegg said.
To cap it off, when Clegg's father died a year and half ago, Dodd "spoke at the funeral and did a wonderful job," Dr. Clegg said.
Dr. Clegg said his sister met Dodd while working in the Senate for Garn, and they dated for years.
That long courtship was underlined, interestingly, in a 2003 interview with the New Haven Register with Dodd just after he had decided not to run for president in 2004.
When an interviewer asked what the toughest decision he ever made was, Dodd hesitated — and his wife laughingly filled in saying, "The hardest decision was asking me to marry him. That one took him 11 1/2 years."
Of interest during those years of dating, Clegg once had a confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee when President Clinton nominated her to become the No. 2 official at the Export-Import Bank. One of its members was Dodd, who had the unusual opportunity to ask his girlfriend-nominee some questions.
Clegg, 44, and Dodd, 62, are now the parents of two daughters, ages 5 years and 22 months.
Dr. Clegg, a self-described conservative, says that while he and Dodd may not see eye-to-eye on all political issues, "I would vote for him in a second. He is just great. He is extra supportive. Whenever you need something, he is there for you." As a doctor, Clegg says he especially likes Dodd's stands on health care.
Dr. Clegg said it may also take some time to get used to the fact that his brother-in-law is running for president. "I don't think of him that way or as a senator. When he's around us, he's just one of the brothers-in-law."
Dr. Clegg also says that his sister was the fourth of six siblings —five of whom were girls. One sibling now lives in California, but the rest live in Utah.
"Jackie is an excellent person. She has always been a real go-getter. She's always been very competitive. She was on the debate team (in college.) She was a skier and on the Ski Patrol. She was a swimmer," he said.
That helped her to graduate summa cum laude from Southern Utah University, where she was also once a sports editor for the school newspaper.
Jackie Marie Clegg formed Clegg International Consultants, a lobbying and strategic planning firm. She serves on the boards of directors of several corporations, including Blockbuster, the Chicago Board of Trade, Cardiome Pharma and Innovative Drug Delivery Systems.