LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:
While Republicans may have one eye on Isaac this week, the other eye will surely be on the party's rising stars giving speeches at the convention - including Mia Love. She's the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and she's managed to land a coveted, prime-time speaking slot at the convention. With her bid for a Utah congressional seat, Mia Love has crept into the national spotlight. If elected, she would be the first African-American, female Republican elected to Congress. From member station KUER in Salt Lake City, Terry Gildea reports.
TERRY GILDEA, BYLINE: Perhaps Mia Love's unofficial audition for a speaking slot in Tampa, started when she took the stage at the Utah state GOP convention in April.
MAYOR MIA LOVE: You can work hard; you can save; you can improve your life, and the lives of your children. 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.
GILDEA: 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 Jim Matheson, the state's lone Democrat in Congress.
This month, the party's elite showed up in Utah, to support her. Condoleezza Rice came, then U.S. House Speaker John Boehner; and finally, a former presidential hopeful whom Love introduced at a town hall a couple of weeks ago. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Rice did not travel to Utah, to support Love, in August; but is scheduled to do so, in early September.]
LOVE: He has my respect, my love and my appreciation. So without further ado, please help me welcome Sen. John McCain.
GILDEA: The Arizona senator told NPR, Love could have a bright future in the House.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: It's a historic moment in that the first African-American woman who's a Republican, becomes a member of Congress. So that will give her instant visibility and influence.
GILDEA: Love is the daughter of Haitian immigrants and was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents struggled financially but overcame those challenges with what Love calls hard work and determination. McCain hopes that Love's story, and her charisma, will bring more diversity to the party.
Kirk Jowers is the executive director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, at the University of Utah. He says the national GOP spotlight on Mia Love, is an attempt by the party to shed its white-male image.
KIRK JOWERS: Certainly, the African-American vote is going the wrong way for them; the Hispanic vote has been going the wrong way for Republicans. And so I think they are going to make extra efforts, to bring them into the fold.
GILDEA: Mitt Romney's 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, Jason, while he was serving a Mormon mission. She married him, moved to Utah, and converted to the faith.The LDS Church has a checkered history with African-Americans, and did bar black men from full membership in the Church. But that ban was lifted in 1978. Still, Jowers says Love's place in the national GOP spotlight will focus more attention on Mormons.
JOWERS: To see this charismatic, vibrant, African-American woman who's an active member of the Mormon Church - no question will, just on impact, change impressions of the Mormon Church.
GILDEA: Love's opponent, Democrat Jim Matheson, has survived five other Republican challengers over the last 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 Mia Love is the person who can help them achieve that goal.
For NPR News, I'm Terry Gildea in Salt Lake City.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.