By Debbie Siegelbaum - 07/10/12 11:55 PM EDT
Mia Love didn’t anticipate a career in politics. But come November, the 36-year-old Mormon mother of three could become the first African-American Republican woman in Congress.
Love, a onetime homemaker and the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, has become a media darling and rising star within the GOP as she looks to oust incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson (D) in Utah’s newly formed 4th district.
“This is not something I said I wanted to grow up and do; this wasn’t on my radar at all,” she told The Hill.
Love was born in 1975 in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Haitian immigrant parents. As a child, she watched her father and mother work hard, juggling janitorial and housekeeping jobs.
“I remember the first day of college, I took my dad with me, and there was a point where he looked at me, and he got very serious, and he said, ‘Your mother and I have done everything we could to get you here. We worked hard for everything we have. We’ve never taken a handout. You will not be a burden to society. You will give back.’ And that’s what stuck in my head,” she said.
That advice informed Love’s stance on political issues, leading her to become a Republican in favor of limited government.
Soon after Love graduated from the University of Hartford with a fine-arts degree, a friend invited her to visit Utah. While in the Beehive State, she attempted to fix up her friend with a man she had met in Connecticut while he was there on a Mormon mission trip.
“Somehow he and I ended up getting together, and months turned into over 14 years,” she said of her husband, Jason.
While Utah might have been an unexpected place for Love to settle — the state reports an African-American population of barely more than 1 percent — she found a community that was very much in keeping with her ideals.
“Utah is home because when I came here, I found people who believe, as I do … in fiscal discipline and limited government and personal responsibility,” she said. “This is home. I’ve never felt out of place here. I’ve always felt like I’ve reached a place that I want to live and the place where I want my children to grow up.”
While a homemaker, Love became active in her community, and her neighbors soon approached her to encourage her to run for one of the several vacant City Council seats.
That advice turned into a six-year stint as a city councilwoman, during which time Love helped rectify a $3.5 million budget shortfall that required spending cuts and new policies to prevent further fiscal hemorrhaging.
“We didn’t have the option of kicking the can down the road; we had to work together,” she said of bipartisan efforts on the council.
In 2009, Love received 60 percent of the vote to become mayor of Saratoga Springs. There she fought for the same issues she promises to focus on should she win a congressional seat, including fixing the national debt and flagging economy.
“Anything other than that, to me, is remodeling the kitchen while the house is on fire,” she said.
Love’s experience in local government as well as her straightforward, pull-no-punches
approach has been garnering a lot of support. In June, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) traveled to Utah to attend a fundraiser for her campaign.
“What we love about Mia is she is a reformer,” Ryan wrote in an email. “She’s got the kind of leadership skills and the tenacity to actually fix this country’s problems. We need people who are willing to take tough votes and apply leadership to get us out of the mess we are in.”
Ann Romney, the wife of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt, has endorsed her. And Love has also received backing from the GOP members of her state’s congressional delegation as she looks to unseat the lone Utah Democrat in Congress.
“She’s the real deal. She’s been very successful as a mayor and mother and is a rock star conservative,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said. “She doesn’t mince words, and it’s going to ruffle some feathers in D.C., but she is who she is, and that’s why I think she’s going to do so well. You can’t pin her as a radical-right person. She’s very independent-minded.”
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) joked that he won’t be getting much assistance from his son on the campaign trail this summer because the college student is instead spending his time working for Love.
“He goes to all her events,” he said with a laugh. “He really is sold on her ability to be a strong voice for the state of Utah … She is somebody who can excite people.”
Bishop isn’t too upset, though, noting he’s a supporter of Love’s as well.
“I think whatever [Love] does has a purpose to it and a reason for it, and that’s going to be very positive,” he said. “I think she’ll fit in wonderfully here.”
Love is grateful for all the support her campaign has garnered, but admits she hopes the attention remains focused on the issues at hand instead of her role as a female African-American candidate.
“Saratoga Springs didn’t elect me with 60 percent of the vote because I’m black and female,” she said. “I was elected in 2009 to be able to lead this city, and it’s my abilities that did that. It wasn’t because I wore high heels or a fresh coat of makeup; it was the policies that we put in place.”
Matheson, a six-term lawmaker, is also confident their congressional race will be decided on the issues.
“There’s been a lot of attention in the national media [aimed at Love], but this election’s going to get decided in Utah by Utah voters,” he said. “I just think at the end of the day, they’re going to vote based on where we are on the issues.”
Out of all House Democrats, Matheson represents the most Republican-leaning seat. He is a perpetual GOP target and won reelection in 2010 by 4 points.
Love remains focused on her campaign as she trails Matheson, according to recent polls. She is also intent on ignoring what she deems political “distractions,” including the GOP’s perceived “war on women,” President Obama’s executive order to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants younger than 30 years of age and, of course, the talk of a potentially history-making win.
“When people talk about making history, really the only history I’m interested in making is getting this country back on firm financial standing,” she said. “You are defined by your character and what you’re able to do, not what you look like.”