SALT LAKE CITY — GOP candidate Mia Love said Tuesday she'd join the Congressional Black Caucus if elected in Utah's 4th District even though she said the group does "ignite a lot of emotion" and is "about creating this victim attitude."
At the same time, her Democratic opponent, Doug Owens, made the first ad buy in what is the state's top race, purchasing around $300,000 in local television time on network and cable stations to air commercials this fall.
Love, who would be the first black Republican woman to serve in Congress, told Roll Call in a June 5 interview she would consider joining the caucus currently made up solely of Democrats "to see if I can make a difference there."
Change, she said in the interview, has to come from within the caucus to "let people know that members of the community, especially the black community, whether it's in Utah, wherever it is" that they "don't have to be dependent on the federal government."
The former Saratoga Springs mayor told the Deseret News her position on joining the caucus is the same as it was during her 2012 campaign for the state's newest congressional seat, when she nearly defeated retiring Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
In 2012, Love described the caucus as "demagoguery" and said she would join the caucus "and try to take that thing apart from the inside out."
Caucus members, she said then, "ignite emotions and ignite racism when there isn't" and instill fear "that everybody is going to lose everything and blaming Congress for everything instead of taking responsibility."
Tuesday, Love's words were more measured.
She said what the caucus does is "ignite a lot of emotion where there isn't. It's not about making Americans independent. It's about creating this victim attitude that I don't believe we should be creating in America."
People should be given opportunities "to be their own masters and be able to make decisions in their own lives and be independent, contributing members of society," she said. "I want to make sure we're empowering Americans, not victimizing Americans."
Owens said it's not clear what Love hopes to accomplish.
"She could be signaling a change in tone. I don't know," he said. "What is the change she wants to bring? Is it to essentially condemn (the caucus) and burn it down, which is how I see the shutdown last fall?"
Owens kicked off the first debate in the race by describing Love as an extremist for applauding Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, for helping to lead a fight against the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that led to the shutdown of the federal government.
Owens, a lawyer and the son of late Utah congressman Wayne Owens, said his campaign plans to have "a serious media presence" when the race heats up in the fall — and the money to pay for it.
"It says we're feeling confident about fundraising," Owens said of the ad buy, which includes $81,000 in spots on KSL-TV from mid-September through Election Day in November. "I really feel if we can get the message out, we can win."
Love's campaign has yet to purchase advertising time.
"My campaign's not going to be based on anything that he does. We're going to maintain the same strategy that we've had," Love said. "Our campaign is going to decide when is a good time to get it, and get our message out."
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the TV time secured by the Owens campaign is "at least an indication they're not planning on running the typical Democratic minimalist campaign and hoping for a miracle."
Instead, Burbank said, the ad buy may suggest to would-be contributors that first-time candidate Owens believes he can run a strong race against a better-known opponent who attracted national attention in 2012.
"If you really don't think you're going to be competitive, that's a step you usually don't take," Burbank said. "You usually don't think advertising in the end is going to help."
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said Owens needs advertising to define himself and the issues in the race.
"The fact that he's buying ads and he's being aggressive and being first is probably a sign that he's going to be a serious candidate and a serious opponent," Karpowitz said.
But the BYU political science professor said he didn't expect voters to care much about the caucus issue.
"I do think it's an opportunity that Mia Love has taken to emphasize some basic themes that were at the heart of her 2012 campaign," including self-reliance, he said.
"I'm skeptical voters will care much whether or not she joins the Congressional Black Caucus," Karpowitz said.
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