The most intriguing political race of 2012 is a congressional campaign hidden away in central Utah. Republicans are in full attack mode against the only Democrat in Utah’s congressional delegation.
No surprise that the Republican candidate is a Mormon. The surprise is that she is a black woman.
As the Washington Post noted in a recent profile of 37-year-old Mia Love: “If she wins, not only would she help Republicans keep control of the House, but she would become the first black Republican woman to serve in Congress. Love, who is Mormon, also could go a long way toward helping presidential candidate Mitt Romney, putting a fresh face on his church and his Party as both try to appeal to an increasingly diverse nation.”
Those dynamics help to explain why a little congressional race in Utah is getting a lot of attention in Washington. Love has already been endorsed by GOP heavyweights like Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy and Ann Romney.
Love is running against Jim Matheson, a six-term Democratic incumbent who serves on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. He is the co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative and moderate Democrats in Congress known for bucking their party’s leadership.
The last remaining Democrat in the Utah delegation, Matheson won his 2010 re-election race by less than 5 points.
Because of population gains, Utah gained a fourth congressional seat after the 2010 census and the GOP-dominated state legislature has redistricted Matheson into the new district with even more registered Republicans.
Moderates in Congress are fast becoming an endangered species – on both sides of the aisle.
According to the 2010 National Journal Rankings, Matheson was more conservative than 51 percent of his colleagues in the House and more liberal than 49 percent. This makes him one of the most centrist members of Congress.
In 2008, there were 56 Blue Dogs – conservative Democrats -- in the House. After the 2010 elections, there were only 26.
To strengthen his conservative credentials, Matheson voted against President Obama’s health care reform law and voted in favor of holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over Fast and Furious. It seems to be working for him.
A June poll from Desert News/KSL showed Matheson leading Love by 15 points. The incumbent also has a commanding lead in fundraising with more than $1 million dollars in his campaign war chest.
But keep in mind that Love only locked up the GOP nomination at the state convention in April. The amount of money she has collected since then has been roughly equal to what Matheson has raised.
Love is attracting national attention as the conservative mayor of Saratoga Springs and one of the few African-Americans in Utah. The state has a 1.3 percent black population compared to the nation’s 13 percent black population.
If Love wins, she will instantly become a conservative celebrity – a new face for conservatism and a lure for the GOP to use to recruit more candidates who are female and persons of color.
Like Marco Rubio, her parents are immigrants and she is uniquely qualified to reach out to the growing immigrant population who views the GOP as hostile.
If elected, Love will join Reps. Allen West of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina as black Republican members of the House. Love does not mouth West's fiery Tea Party rhetoric. But there is no doubt that she is a strong conservative.
She is pro-life, pro-gun and favors eliminating the Department of Education and the Department of Energy.
She also says that she would like to join the Congressional Black Caucus so that she can "try to take that thing apart from the inside out” because, according to her, "They sit there and ignite emotions and ignite racism when there isn’t. They use their positions to instill fear. Hope and change is turned into fear and blame. Fear that everybody is going to lose everything and blaming Congress for everything instead of taking responsibility."
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Love could well be the messenger that the GOP has been waiting for to rebuild and rebrand themselves a forward-looking party with fresh new ideas for a changing, diverse electorate.
On the campaign trail, Love recounts how her father told her on the day of her college orientation: “Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society.”
Both of her parents worked very hard, with her father taking on a second job as a janitor to put their three children through school.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Love worked her way through college and graduated from the University of Hartford. She also worked as a flight attendant for Continental Airlines.
In her endorsement, Ann Romney called her an “example for Washington.”
As Utah goes, so goes the nation?