Amid the crowded field of House candidates across the country in 2012, expect to hear a lot about Mia Love, a Republican who is an African American and a Mormon and who on Saturday defeated a handful of rivals to clinch the party nomination in the campaign for Utah's fourth congressional district. Love is preparing to face incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. Victory in November would make her the first black Republican congresswoman in history.
A Brooklyn-born Mormon convert, Love is a marathon-running mother of three and the daughter of Haitian immigrants who came to the United States with $10 in their pockets, she says. Her mother cleaned houses and worked as a nurse at a retirement home while her father worked for a painting company, toiled as a janitor at a Catholic school and drove a school bus to support their growing family.
"I am a product of that hard work," she said in an interview with Yahoo News, "a product of the American dream."
Love's political career began when she was elected to the city council in the small town of Saratoga Springs, Utah, in 2004. She became mayor six years later and her House candidacy has received cash from an impressive list of Republican big wigs like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.
Well aware that she is unique when lined up next to most Republicans in the caucus, Love doesn't shy away from being a poster child for her party.
"We have an opportunity to reach some of our fellow Americans that we haven't been able to reach, ever, on the conservative side," she told Yahoo News. "And if I can reach our fellow Americans and get them to believe what we believe--that the way that they're going to realize the American dream is through hard work and that they can do it, then I'm happy to play that role. I'm happy to be the example."
While talking policy, she comes across as a tax- and regulation-slashing, tea party conservative infused with a leave-us-alone libertarian streak, a hallmark of western Republicans.
"I know what the proper role of government is," she said. "I don't really want to know what's going on in somebody's backyard. It's not my job to know what's going on in their backyard and I try to stay out of everyone's personal lives and their property."
During the Republican primary, Love raised less than $120,00, falling short of three other candidates vying for the nomination. On primary day, however, she received 70 percent of the vote, walloping state legislator (and lead fundraiser) Carl Wimmer, who had the backing of tea Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a tea party favorite.
Matheson, her new Democratic opponent with a $1.2 million war chest, could be her greatest challenger yet.
"I told Congressman West to hang in there, reinforcements are coming, and while I respect the ideas of some of these representatives to care for the poor in their community, I reject the notion that government dependency is the way to do it," Love said. "I am ready to go in and change it from the inside out."