SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. House Speaker John Boehner urged support for 4th District congressional candidate Mia Love during a fundraiser Wednesday, warning this November’s election will be a battle for Republicans.
“The fight that we’re in is a real fight,” Boehner told more than 100 Utahns gathered for a $500-per-person lunch at the Little America Hotel, a crowd that included Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other GOP leaders.
Boehner said Utahns will have to dig deep to ensure Love beats the state’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, who is seeking re-election in the newly added district.
“The most important election of our lifetime is this November,” the Ohio congressman said, adding that unlike previous times when that statement has been made, this year it’s true.
His biggest concern for Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, is how much her race will cost. “We need to raise more money,” Boehner said, suggesting the audience write another check to her campaign right away.
“We need more help in Utah,” the speaker of the House said.
Boehner said his Utah stop marked the 13th day of a 35-day campaign swing for both sitting Republican House members and candidates like Love challenging Democratic representatives. He said the GOP can win as many as 25 seats now held by Democrats.
The team at the top of the Republican ticket, presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his pick for vice president, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, are "doing really well," the speaker said.
"I'm very proud of Gov. Romney for choosing Paul. You know, he could have taken a couple of safer routes, but he didn't," Boehner said, recalling when he first ran for office, Ryan, then a college student in Ohio, was a campaign volunteer.
Much of Boehner's speech was aimed at President Barack Obama. The Democratic president, Boehner said, has "never had a real job and nobody around him has ever had a real job" and continues "to castigate the private sector."
He pledged the GOP will continue to be on the offense through Election Day and said the only way former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, will ever get the speaker's gavel back "is to pry it out of my cold stone hands."
Boehner, who is known to cry easily, teared up before the media were allowed into the lunch, Rep. Jason Chaffetz said. Boehner "had to break out the handkerchief" during Love's introduction, he said.
Before the luncheon, Boehner joined Herbert, Chaffetz, Sen. Orrin Hatch and other prominent Republicans at a $10,000-a-person roundtable. There was also an opportunity to pose for a photo with the speaker — for a $2,500 contribution.
The money raised was shared with the state Republican Party as well as the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Love has already had fundraising help earlier this year from Ryan. On Thursday, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, will be in Utah for another fundraising event and a town hall meeting in West Valley City for her. Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is expected here in September.
“People are paying attention to us,” Love told reporters after the fundraiser. “It shows that I’m going to be able to work with people.”
Chaffetz said the money that Love is raising with the help of national figures in the GOP is key to reaching out to Utah voters. Love, who would be the first black Republican woman in Congress if elected, has lagged behind Matheson in the polls.
"The point today is to raise money so she can communicate her message in the fall," Chaffetz said. "She's doing a much better job than I ever did at raising money."
Hatch, who won his first primary battle in 36 years earlier this summer, said Love is in for a tough fight.
"It's not going to be easy for her to beat Jim Matheson, who virtually everybody likes, including me," the senator said. But if she wins, Hatch predicted Love will be a "superstar" in Congress.
Matheson said the big names in the GOP coming to Utah to help Love's campaign make her beholden to the national party. The six-term 2nd District congressman said that's not what Utah voters want.
"I'm real confident that whether people are Democrats or Republicans or independents, they are looking for my approach to the job," Matheson said. "I think I'm a voice for reason and a constructive voice and they want someone who's going to be that way."
Contributing: Richard Piatt
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company