It was a hard fight. We have to wait. There's still quite a few ballots out there. We want to make sure every ballot is counted. —Mia Love
See the video interview on KSL.
SALT LAKE CITY — Though still holding out hope of becoming a congresswoman, Republican Mia Love doesn't sound like she'll be running into the sunset even if last Tuesday's elections results stand up for Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.
"We still have some votes we need to count. It's not all set in stone until the (Nov.) 20th, so we'll just wait. It's still a pretty close race," Love said.
The Saratoga Springs mayor broke a weeklong silence Monday since her stinging loss last week to Matheson in Utah's new 4th Congressional District.
Love said the outcome "absolutely" surprised her. It appeared to be her contest to lose as most polls had her leading the six-term incumbent going into Election Day.
She acknowledged her campaign didn't see some things coming that might have turned the tide. She also said she doesn't intend to back down from a chance to make a difference in the nation.
In the state's most contentious and expensive congressional campaign, Matheson bested Love by 2,818 votes last Tuesday. After some late votes trickled in from Sanpete County, the difference now sits at 2,646.
There are more than 64,000 provisional and mail-in ballots — mostly in Salt Lake County, along with Utah, Sanpete and Juab counties — that won't be counted until the official canvass Nov. 20. It is not known how many ballots belong to 4th District voters. State elections director Mark Thomas said it's unlikely for Love to overtake Matheson.
Love, who will be in Disneyworld next week, won't be around for the final count.
The Saratoga Springs mayor faces re-election next year. She hasn't ruled out running for a second term or seeking another public office in the future. But Love said she can't stand by and watch politicians avoid taking positions and not solve problems.
"I'm not interested in just staying on the sidelines," she said. "I'm interested in going in, bringing some solutions forward and making sure we're moving in a positive direction."
Love, 36, said she intends to continue to promote Utah and conservative values. She has several out-of-state speaking engagements lined up, including with a GOP women's group in Ohio this week.
"I'm going to take some time with my family also and regroup and see what happens," said the married mother of three children. "If we have an opportunity to go out and make a difference, I think it's our obligation to do that. … No matter what that outlet is, I'm going to do everything I can to preserve this country."
An avid runner, Love mulled the past and the future as she trekked through a favorite canyon last week for the first time in a while.
"It was me time," she said. "It was time for me to file things in the right place and then move on."
The first-time congressional candidate acknowledged her campaign didn't foresee the impact of third-party candidate Jim Vein or the high voter turnout in the Millcreek area, where an incorporation question drew residents to the polls. Salt Lake County's east side traditionally leans Democratic.
But she also pointed to what she called "distractions" and "distortions" that "might have put a seed of doubt in people's minds."
"I think there's a lot of deception that goes on in politics. It's the same thing that's happened with Mitt (Romney) outside of the state," she said. "Anybody who listened to the ads would think they would get mugged in Saratoga Springs."
Love became a Republican sensation after winning the party's nomination in April. She would have been the first black Republican woman elected to Congress.
"She was caught in a great but difficult situation," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.
The national Republican Party was heavily involved and excited about her campaign, but it diverted her attention away from the district, Jowers said. For example, Love was the only candidate for major office in Utah to turn down an hourlong interview with the well-respected Doug Fabrizio on KUER Radio. She also campaigned for Romney in Ohio and Nevada.
"She needed more time with (KSL's) Rich Piatt and less time with (CNN's) Wolf Blitzer. That was a really big problem. You need to win the local race before you become national," Jowers said.
Love said she spent the majority of her time in the state.
"I was given an opportunity to raise Utah's voice on a national stage, and I did it because it's Utah's voice," she said. "I don't think anybody in this campaign or anywhere else would think that was a bad thing. It was me representing Utah in ways Utah hasn't been represented."
A parade of big-name Republicans, including former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, beat a path to Utah to raise funds for Love.
"She was maybe even hurt by the all-star group that came in on her behalf," Jowers said. "At some point, she may have lost a little bit of her own identity."
A National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman said Love was a great candidate who ran a great race.
"I think she created a lot of energy in the party and certainly in Utah," said Daniel Scarpinato, NRCC spokesman. "We ran a very aggressive campaign that we're proud of against Jim Matheson."
Scarpinato said the national committee came into 2012 with a plan to go on the offensive, not just defend the seats the GOP held in Congress.
"By being on the offensive, we disabled Democrats from being able to use their resources. We prevented them from spending resources elsewhere," he said.
The NRCC spent $1.7 million on anti-Matheson ads and was among two dozen outside groups that spent a total of $6 million against both candidates. Matheson and Love each raised more than $2 million themselves.
"Negative advertising hurt Love more than Matheson because voters know him and his family, so those ads don't ring as true," Jowers said.
Voters, he said, didn't know Love as well and were more prone to believe the negativity.
Jowers also credited Matheson for running a strong campaign. A mailer trying to show Matheson was more like Mitt Romney than Love seemed to be effective, he said.
"That's a bold move with some of the Democratic base who won't be thrilled with that. But it was a genius move to get those independents to move over," Jowers said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche