Updated Nov. 11 11:51 a.m. | Republican Rep. Mia Love will hold off Democratic challenger Doug Owens in their rematch for Utah’s 4th District, The Associated Press projects.
Love was leading Owens 53 percent to 42 percent with 78 percent of precincts reporting as of Friday morning, but the counting in Salt Lake County has been remarkably slow, with Love's campaign anticipating the margin will grow.
“Salt Lake County is grossly overdue in posting election night results. Nearly 48 hours have passed since the polls have closed,” Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans told the Deseret News on Thursday.
Evans called the slow count “completely unacceptable.”
The newspaper reported that in addition to an unexpected influx of ballots on Election Day, the counting operation was hampered by a white powder scare that turned out to be harmless.
Utah’s 4th District is, geographically, the smallest in the state, mostly carved out of populous Salt Lake and Utah counties. While it has Utah’s highest proportion of Hispanic residents (16 percent), overall, the district remains majority white and heavily Mormon.
Coming into Election Day, the race was rated Republican Favored by The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call. The contest was a rematch from 2014 when Love prevailed over Owens by a surprisingly close 51 percent to 46 percent margin.
The closeness of that race combined with alleged ethics violations by Love during her first term in office and Donald Trump’s problems in Utah inspired Democrats to target her for defeat. But Owens had difficulty gaining traction.
It’s been a most unusual year for Utah politics, with the generally reliable Republican state having entered Election Day hard to predict at the presidential level.
Independent candidate Evan McMullin gained considerable traction in the top-of-the-ticket polls, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign launched outreach efforts in the state whose sizable Mormon population was largely uneasy with Republican standard-bearer Trump.
Some social conservatives had expressed concern that Trump could depress turnout down ballot.
Those fears appear to be have unfounded as Trump won Utah by a sizable margin, though as large are margins racked up by previous GOP presidential nominees.
Before coming to Congress, Love served two terms on the city council in Saratoga Springs, a city less than two decades old between Salt Lake City and Provo.
A member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Love’s conservative positions set her apart from many fellow CBC members. She is one of just three black GOP members of Congress along with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Texas Rep. Will Hurd.