One of the hottest House races in the country got a surprisingly early start on Saturday when Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, emerged from the Utah Republican convention with the 4th district nomination.
Love dominated the second-round vote, avoiding a primary by receiving
70 percent against former state Rep. Carl Wimmer. That means her race against Rep. Jim Matheson, one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the country, kicks off two months early.
Party insiders are ecstatic that Love emerged from the convention — “A star was born,” state GOP Chairman Thomas Wright exclaimed — and see her as the strongest challenger to Matheson.
“I think Matheson would have preferred to have anybody but Mia come out of the convention because she is going to be tough to beat,” said Jeff Hartley, a Utah lobbyist and former state GOP executive director.
Love, who has been mayor of Saratoga Springs for the past two years and served on the city council for six years before that, is Utah’s first black, female mayor. If elected, she would become Congress’ first black Republican woman.
House GOP leaders have been behind Love for some time. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.) donated a combined $17,500 to Love in December through their political action committees.
Wimmer boasted the endorsement of Utah Sen. Mike Lee and state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who caused an uproar at the convention by referring to Love as a “novelty” in a speech between the first and second rounds of voting. Some believe that comment helped boost Love’s vote total.
“She was a rock star,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), who also secured a spot on the general election ballot Saturday. “I wouldn’t want to go up against her.”
Chaffetz said several factors are going in Love’s favor: Record turnout is expected with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket, Matheson is running in a district largely new to him after redistricting, and Love doesn’t have the baggage of serving in the state Legislature like most of the Congressman’s previous challengers.
“I think we can go ahead and count this as a very competitive race and one Republicans surely can pick up,” Chaffetz said.
Matheson’s current district was carved up by the GOP-controlled state Legislature, and the Salt Lake County-based 4th district gave him his best chance at returning and is actually slightly better for him than his current district.
Matheson, who said his re-election strategy does not change with Love as his opponent, said he’s feeling confident as he begins the first week of his general election race.
“I’m a six-generation Utahn, and I feel like I know folks here really well,” the Blue Dog Democrat said by phone Monday. “I think they have frustration with politics today because of all the polarization and partisanship and the bickering. They’re looking for something different, and that’s me. I don’t just say it, I’ve done it.”
Matheson said Love has “taken some positions that are way out there,” and state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis called Love an “ideological extremist with a moderate costume.” Though she doesn’t have a record in the state capital, Democrats will no doubt highlight some of her votes on the city council over the next six months.
For now, Love has the advantage of focusing on Matheson rather than spending the next two months running a district-wide primary campaign.
“My guess is she’ll be in Washington before too long raising some money,” Hartley said.