Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who is running for a House seat, speaks at the Republican state convention April 21, in Sandy, Utah. Love would be the first black, female Republican elected to Congress.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who is running for a House seat, speaks at the Republican state convention April 21, in Sandy, Utah. Love would be the first black, female Republican elected to Congress. Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
A Utah congressional hopeful will take the stage Tuesday at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Mia Love is the mayor of Saratoga Springs, a small Utah community, but her energy and personal story have Republicans believing she's a winner. If elected, she'd become the first black female Republican in Congress.
Perhaps Love's unofficial audition for a speaking slot in Tampa started when she took the stage at the Utah state GOP convention in April.
"You can work hard. You can save, you can improve your life and the lives of your children," she said. "And one day, when you deliver your youngest child to the university, you will look her in the eye and you will say, 'You will give back.'"
Love captivated the crowd that day, and won the GOP nomination in a newly drawn Utah congressional district. Almost immediately, Republican leadership in Washington took notice of Love and the potential she has to defeat incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, the state's lone Democrat in Congress.
This month, the party's elite — including Speaker John Boehner and Sen. John McCain or Arizona — showed up in Utah to support her.
McCain said Love could have a bright future in the House.
"It's a historic moment in that the first African-American woman who is a Republican becomes a member of Congress," he said. "So that will give her instant visibility and influence."
Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her parents struggled financially, but overcame those challenges with what Love calls hard work and determination. McCain said he hopes Love's story and her charisma will bring more diversity to the party.
Kirk Jowers, executive director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, says the national GOP spotlight on Love is an attempt by the party to shed its white male image.
"Certainly the African-American vote is going the wrong way for them, [and] the Hispanic vote has been going the wrong way for Republicans," Jowers says. "So where they can find people like Mayor Love, individuals who don't fit a stereotype that Republicans don't want applied to them, I think they are going to make extra efforts to bring them into the fold."
At the GOP state convention in April, Love made the case for why she could increase Republican appeal.
"Because of who I am and where I come from, I can win those votes: the independents, the moderates, the women votes," she said. "I can persuade them to come along with us."
Republican Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy has already focused attention on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Love herself is a Mormon convert. She met her husband while he was serving a Mormon mission; they married and moved to Utah, and she converted to the faith.
The LDS Church has a checkered history with African-Americans; its ban on black men from full membership in the church was lifted only in 1978. Still, Jowers says Love's place in the national GOP spotlight will focus more attention on Mormons.
"To see this charismatic, vibrant, African-American woman who is an active member of the Mormon Church, no question will ... change impressions of the Mormon Church," Jowers says.
Love's opponent, Matheson, has survived five other Republican challengers over the past 12 years. The attention from Washington's GOP leadership is a signal that Republicans want to claim all of Utah as their own, and they're confident Love is the person who can help them achieve that goal.