She recently introduced herself to a group of teachers, standing in the gilded state Capitol, which historically has been the domain of white men, by describing her Haitian American father.
“He said: ‘Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society,’ ” she said with a stern smile. “ ‘You will give back.’ ”
Most of the teachers already knew of Love, whose race against six-term Rep. Jim Matheson (D) has become one of the country’s most closely watched congressional contests.
If she wins, not only would she help Republicans keep control of the House, but she would become the first black Republican woman to serve in Congress. Love, who is Mormon, also could go a long way toward helping presidential candidate Mitt Romney, putting a fresh face on his church and his party as both try to appeal to an increasingly diverse nation.
As a result, independent groups and both political parties are expected to pour millions of dollars into the contest. The race, in a district where Republicans have dominated, is rated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report.
Republicans are effusive about their candidate.
“Mia has a great opportunity to extend the message of liberty and economic freedom in ways that a lot of us can’t, and we’re excited about that,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) after hosting a fundraiser for her in Park City on Friday night.
It was only two months ago that Love caught statewide attention at Utah’s Republican convention, where she blew her opponents out of the race by winning support from 70 percent of the delegates. Under the state’s primary rules, candidates with at least 60 percent go into the primary election unopposed.
Without an opponent in the primary Tuesday, Love has been able to spend her time raising money, preparing for the match-up against Matheson and raising her profile. She has not shied away from the provocative, saying that “government is not your salvation” and pledging to join the Congressional Black Caucus to take it apart “from the inside out.”
“Mia Love is the type of candidate that Republicans have been trying to recruit,” said Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst at the Rothenberg Political Report. “On paper, this is a district that they should have won awhile ago.”
Love is running in a congressional district created in 2010 amid negotiations to give Washington, D.C., a vote in the House. Utah’s new congressional map carved up Matheson’s old district, tossing in even more Republicans. So he hopped to the newly drawn 4th district, which contains about a third of his old territory.
‘It is unprecedented’
The primary victory for Love, a relative newcomer, stunned Utah. She is a tall black woman with braided hair in a state that has elected only three women to Congress and has an African American population of less than 1 percent, according to the most recent census.