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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Mia Love is interviewed at her home in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY — Fourth District GOP congressional candidate Mia Love, already receiving national attention for her bid to unseat Rep. Jim Matheson, now has a coveted speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

The announcement came shortly before Matheson, Utah's only Democrat in Congress, held a press conference Tuesday at the Grand America Hotel to tout his endorsement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Mia Love interview with Doug Wright

Rob Engstrom, the chamber's senior vice president and national political director, declined to discuss how much money would be spent on Matheson's behalf in the Utah race but said it is among the top five congressional races in the country. 

Mia Love interview with Doug Wright

The pro-business group reportedly has budgeted more than the $50 million in 2010 to back candidates. Matheson is one of only a handful of Democrats supported by the chamber, which will end up endorsing around 285 candidates, Engstrom said. 

"We stick by our friends," he said, noting that the endorsement was based on Matheson's voting record on chamber issues, including his opposition to President Barack Obama's health care plan. He said the chamber did not consider endorsing Love.

Matheson said the endorsement shows the contrast between the candidates.

"She's all about national party and I'm about Utah," he said. "Here I am today with a non-partisan group that's trying to grow the economy."

Love, who would be the first black GOP woman in Congress, is attracting big-name Republicans to Utah for fundraisers, including Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — the presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick — and the party's 2008 presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The Saratoga Springs mayor said she received a call from Romney's campaign asking if she would be willing to address the convention Tuesday, Aug. 28, in the evening — a prime speaking slot. 

She said the focus of her speech will be support for Romney. While Love said her speech will be reviewed by the Romney campaign, it will "come from the heart and it's going to come from what we believe in."

Being selected for the speaking slot, Love said, shows "the 4th District is not going to be represented by just a normal freshman congresswoman. We're going to have a voice. ... We're going to be able to actually lead."

Kirk Jowers, president of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said this is an honor for Love.

"It's a big deal and shows that the party is really behind her," he said. 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will deliver the keynote address at the four-day convention that begins Aug. 27. Other speakers include McCain, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Love is the only Utahn on the list of speakers that has been released by the GOP.

She is the first politician scheduled to speak on Aug. 28 after the convention convenes at 7:30 p.m. Her speech and video will be followed by Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who put up a tough fight against Romney for the presidential nomination.

Four years ago, then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a key supporter of McCain's run for the White House, introduced Sarah Palin as the GOP's vice presidential choice despite losing his voice. 

Huntsman, who dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination in January, is skipping this year's national convention citing his disagreement with the direction the party is headed.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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