TAMPA, Fla. — While this week’s Republican National Convention marks the official debut of Mitt Romney as the party’s nominee for president, plenty of other politicians will also have their moment in the spotlight, including a pair of Utahns.
For 4th District GOP congressional candidate Mia Love, that moment comes Tuesday night, when she addresses the convention. The prime speaking spot is the latest show of support from top GOP leaders for the newcomer on the national scene.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, already well-known as a Romney surrogate, rehearsed his speech on the convention stage over the weekend but lost his Monday afternoon speaking slot after the entire day's schedule was cancelled because of Tropical Storm Issac. He said he now expects to speak around 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and a GOP delegate to the convention, said Love is the one to watch since Chaffetz is an established name in the party.
“This is just a chance to kind of solidify his status. For Mia, she is all potential in most people’s eyes,” Jowers said. “If this were the NBA, Jason is an established star in the league. And Mia is potentially a first-round draft pick and that’s always more exciting.”
Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said Love’s appearance is a big boost in her bid to unseat the state’s only Democrat in Washington, Rep. Jim Matheson, and become the GOPís first black woman in Congress.
“It’s a huge opportunity for Mia to introduce herself to the constituents of the 4th District,” Wright said, demonstrating to voters that she has the “national support and national clout and can get something done on Day 1.”
Jowers said a strong showing by Love could mean even more support from outside Utah.
And a great performance? Well, he said, eight years ago, a then-Illinois state senator made his mark at the Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama.
“It has the potential, no matter how remote, to be kind of a supersonic launcher like it was for Barack Obama, who in 2004, was less known than Mia Love when he gave his speech,” Jowers said.
University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle also sees that possibility with Love’s speech.
“Two words for you – Barack Obama,” Hagle said. “It may bring you enough attention you become a star…Or it can be, you have this spot, you do OK.”
Jowers said it would take “a pretty spectacular flub to really damage” Love but she faces a tough race against the six-term Democrat no matter what happens on stage.
Love said just before leaving for Tampa that she was not feeling the pressure — yet.
“I’m sure I’m going to get up there and go, ‘Oh my gosh,’ “ Love said. “I’m sure as soon as I get up on that stage, the nerves will kick in. I’m just hoping I don’t trip.”
Her goal, she said, is to do her best to make the state proud.
“We’ll talk about the values here in Utah we feel are important,” she said, citing fiscal discipline, personal responsibility and the “preservation of the American dream.”
Love said she’ll be introduced to the convention via a video. The national exposure follows several events held for her in Utah by high-profile Republicans, including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee.
“We’re going to have a lot of people paying attention to the state of Utah,” Love said. “There are a lot of people who have confidence in me.”
Chaffetz said Love should do just fine.
“You don’t want to create your own YouTube moment, but in three minutes you can’t screw it up too bad,” he said. “There’ll be somebody. You just don’t want to be that guy.”
As for his planned speech, Chaffetz said he’ll make it clear why he’s been at Romney’s side since the early days of the campaign, when many Republicans across the country were backing other candidates.
“I want to carry the banner of fiscal conservatism. I want to look back and say I did everything I could possibly do to help fire Barack Obama,” Chaffetz said.
He’s also not shy about saying he’s looking to raise his own profile even more.
“There are 435 members in Congress. You’ve got to find a way to break out,” Chaffetz said. “It’s important to Utah, because if I’m going to be influential and have a voice, (I have to) break out of the clutter.”
Utah’s delegation to the national convention includes several former congressional candidates who saw their hopes of finding support for their campaigns in Tampa dashed when they were defeated at the state GOP convention earlier this year.
Stephen Sandstrom, who resigned from the Legislature to run for Congress only to lose the nomination to Love, said he’s still excited about attending his first national convention.
He said he expects the convention to offer similar opportunities to meet the fundraisers and others who help win races as the trips he took to Washington while still in the running for Congress.
“You’re not going to make it if you’re not out there working with people,” Sandstrom said, describing himself as keeping his political options open and looking to build alliances. “I fully anticipate doing that.”
Dave Clark, who lost his race for the 2nd District congressional nomination to Chris Stewart at the state convention, said Tampa is a good opportunity for candidates like Love to grab the limelight.
“This is a great opportunity to try to have some of those doors opened, or to continue to open other doors,” Clark, a former Utah House speaker, said.
He said he won’t be trying too hard to make those connections himself in Tampa, instead just enjoying his third time as a national convention delegate.
“Quite frankly, it is a great pageantry. It is a lot of fun. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, this is the Super Bowl,” Clark said.
Stewart is skipping the convention to campaign. Although he did not run for a delegate slot, Stewart was invited to Tampa by the state party.
“I recognize it’s a huge deal,” he said. “But we’re happy to be back here in the district. Someone’s got to do the dirty work.”
Stewart acknowledged it would be more difficult to attract attention to his race in what is now seen as a relatively safe seat for a Republican.
“We’re not the big draw down there anyway. Let’s be honest,” he said. “Not many people are going to the Republican convention to meet Chris Stewart.”
On Thursday, when Romney gives his acceptance speech, Stewart said he will be at state GOP headquarters watching the event on television along with other party members.
“Everyone else is out of town,” he laughed.
Matheson usually stays in Utah to campaign during the Democratic National Convention and this year is no exception.
“Ultimately, it’s the people here in Utah that are going to vote on Election Day. I don’t’ get caught up in sort of the national celebrity scene,” he said. “What’s the point? There’s nothing substantive going on. It’s all predetermined.”
Love’s convention appearance, Matheson said, demonstrates the difference between the two candidates.
“I don’t think it does much at all other than I think she’s about party and I’m about Utah,” he said.
University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said it makes more sense for candidates to stay home from national conventions.
“You can see why if you’re in a competitive race you might want to forget the time hobnobbing with party insiders,” Scala said. “We’re way past the days where your average American tunes into the conventions just because there’s nothing else on TV.”
Those who are paying attention, he said, are likely die-hard partisans.
“They’re political junkies. For them, it’s like the World Series,” Scala said. “But you already know how they’re going to vote.”
Another Utah politician who’ll be missing from this year’s national party convention is former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination.
Huntsman announced earlier this year he wouldn’t be traveling to Tampa, saying the Republican Party is no longer is willing to put the interests of the nation ahead of politics.
Past Republican leaders, he said, governed “with a sense of what’s right for the country, for America and for Americans first and foremost, not what’s right for a party.”
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