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All Utah Needs Is Love?

A GOP star emerges in the Beehive State.

12:40 PM, May 14, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Mia Love, the 36-year-old mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah and Republican candidate for Congress in the state’s newly created Fourth District, is something of a political anomaly. A conservative and a Mormon, Love would be the first black female Republican in Congress ever.

Mia Love

Love doesn’t seem too eager to trade on this “first.” She does say she doesn’t consider herself a victim and doesn’t single others out for their race or gender. “My job is to treat people equally,” she says. When I ask her about the prospect of being the first black Republican woman in the House, she replies rhetorically, “Do you find it interesting?” 

The National Republican Congressional Committee finds a lot interesting about Love, having inducted her into its first 2012 class of “Young Guns.” And during our interview at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, Illinois congressman Peter Roskam, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, waits patiently for his own meeting with Love.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Love was born in New York City and attended college in Connecticut, where she met Jason Love, a Mormon missionary from Utah. In 1998, she moved to the suburbs of Salt Lake City, converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and married Jason. 

“I’ve lived in Utah for 14 years, and I’ll always live there,” Love says. “It’s home.”

In 2003, Love, a mother of three, ran successfully for city council in the small town of Saratoga Springs, an hour south of Salt Lake City. During her six years as a councilor, Saratoga Springs experienced an explosion in growth, going from just over 1,000 people in 2000 to nearly 20,000 12 years later. But the city government’s budget had also grown, and Saratoga Springs was on the verge of bankruptcy in the wake of the financial crisis. Love ran for mayor in 2009 and won, promising to cut spending and set the still-booming city’s financial situation straight.

“I ask three questions: Is it affordable? Is it sustainable? Is it my job?” Love says, describing the way she governs and adding that she wants to take those questions to the federal level.

Love also says she can win her race against veteran Democratic congressman Jim Matheson, among the most conservative Democrats in the House. Matheson is leaving the remapped Second Congressional District, where he’s served since 2001, to run in the smaller, more suburban, and more Democratic Fourth. Despite his party affiliation, Matheson has survived due to his conservative positions—he’s pro-life and voted against Obamacare—and the weakness of his Republican opponents.

“Most of them have been state senators and representatives, and he’s been able to define them as uncompromising,” Love says. “As a mayor, I don’t have the option of not working with people.”

But if Love wins her first race for federal office, she may be largely aided by circumstance. Mitt Romney, a Mormon himself, will be at the top of the ticket in November, which will almost certainly encourage a big turnout from Utah’s Mormon population. (Romney’s son Josh is doing some campaign work for Love.) The new Fourth District, despite being the least Republican in the state, still registers at R+13 Cook Partisan Voting Index. And Matheson will only be bringing a fraction of his voters into the district from the old Second.

Still, Love has a compelling story and tells it passionately, as she did at the Utah GOP nominating convention last month. Her speech earned her immediate, overwhelming praise; Love won 70 percent of the delegates. 

Love occasionally draws on her experience as the child of immigrants, people who came to the United States to find a better life for themselves and their children. In a video message on her campaign website, Love discusses a lesson from her parents. “‘Mia, your mother and I never took a handout,’” she recounts her father’s words. “‘You will not be a burden to society. You will give back.’”

“That’s what we’re trying to preserve,” Love says in our interview. “The American dream.”

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