SALT LAKE CITY — Brushing aside a high-profile fellow Republican's slight, Mia Love appears to have arrived on Utah's political scene as anything but a novelty.
"I'm trying to get to 2,000 likes before it's midnight here in Utah. Help me out!" she posted Sunday on Twitter. Her Facebook page exceeded that number before the day ended and was headed to 3,000 on Monday as the next stage of the campaign kicked off in earnest.
New to a big political stage, the Saratoga Springs mayor bested two well-known former state lawmakers for the Republican nomination in the 4th Congressional District. She drew a boisterous ovation from delegates at the state GOP convention and said six-term Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson should be scared because he's never seen a candidate like her.
"It was quite striking," University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said of Love's convention win. "It was certainly a surprise to me."
The National Republican Congressional Committee has targeted Matheson almost since he took office, and has him in its sights again.
"This will be a big race for us," Daniel Scarpinato, NRCC spokesman, said Monday.
"I think we're in a strong position to pick up the seat and retire Jim Matheson," he said. "I think it's really her message is what's going to win the race. I think she's right on the issues."
Having a target on his back is nothing new for Matheson. "I'm used to it," he said.
He's also used to winning with what he describes as a thoughtful approach that reaches across party lines to solve problems.
"I think they're comfortable with the idea that I try to get things done," Matheson said of voters. "The mood for constructive voices is really strong right now and that fits well with me."
At the Republican convention, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who had endorsed Carl Wimmer, angered many delegates when he said, "You have to please pick a person with a proven record who can beat Jim Matheson this fall. Not a novelty."
Shurtleff later apologized and threw his support behind Love.
"He apologized. Case closed. We're moving forward," she said Monday.
Love's victory wasn't getting much national buzz Monday, but that will undoubtedly change as it settles in.
Politico did observe: "The daughter of Haitian immigrants, the pro-gun, pro-life conservative would be the lone black Republican woman in Congress if she won. She’s got a good chance of winning, too: Love will have an experienced opponent in Matheson but the seat is heavily Republican — and Utah favorite Mitt Romney will be heading the GOP ticket."
Love downplays gender and race as things voters care about.
"I don't think that matters to Utah. If Washington is going to make a big deal of it, it's certainly positive in terms of what they think of Utah," she said. "The message of the Republican Party has nothing to do with race or gender. It really has to do with policy and principle, and that’s what I represent."
Part of Love's appeal is that she's a relative newcomer to politics, Burbank said, who is seen as being able to bring a different challenge to the incumbent.
"It changes the matchup Matheson has usually seen, which is a fairly conservative state legislator runs against him and loses. If they want to break that mold, they've done that," he said.
Ideologically, Love does line up with some of Matheson's past challengers as well as GOP convention opponents Wimmer and Stephen Sandstrom, both of whom belonged to the conservative Patrick Henry Caucus while in the Utah Legislature.
Utah tea party organizer David Kirkham, who lost his bid to be the party's nominee for governor Saturday, said he's advised Love on economic issues and hopes to help her win the general election.
Love, he said, is a tea partyer.32 comments on this story
"Of course she is," Kirkham said. "But what is the tea party? The tea party is, 'quit spending all our money, be responsible.'"
Love said her mantra of limited government, fiscal discipline, personal responsibility appeals to the tea party and moderate Republicans alike.
Matheson described some of Love's positions, such as wanting to shut down the U.S. departments of education and energy, as "out there."
"I think he'll try and paint a picture of who I am," Love said. "He's going to have a hard time putting me in a box."
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche