TAMPA, Fla. — Mia Love stood in a downtown hotel room on a stormy Monday afternoon and calmly delivered the first few lines of the speech she’ll give to the Republican National Convention tonight.
“Let me tell you about the America I know,” the 4th District congressional candidate intoned for the benefit of a reporter and photographer there to talk about the biggest night of her political life.
As her speech coach, Sen. Mike Lee’s state director, Boyd Matheson, watched from a couch just a few feet away, Love offered a preview of her two-minute talk, set for 5:36 p.m. MST and accompanied by a slightly longer video.
“My parents immigrated to this country with $10 in their pockets and the hope that the America they learned about really did exist. When tough times came, they didn’t look to Washington. They looked within,” she said.
She described the America she knew growing up as “centered on self-reliance, filled with all of the possibilities of living the American dream” before stopping to sit down for an interview.
Love spent much of the day in a hotel room, going over and over her speech in support of presidential nominee Mitt Romney, adapted from an op-ed piece and titled, “It’s the America I Know.” Her husband, Jason, listened alongside Matheson, a longtime communications consultant is on loan from Lee to ready her for the spotlight.
She stepped briefly onto the convention stage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the Florida city’s hockey team plays, during a Monday evening rehearsal. After a moment in front of the largely empty arena, she counted to 10 for a sound check, then headed backstage to actually run through her speech.
Tuesday is the first full day at the convention, cut short by tropical storm Isaac. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the only other Utahn with a coveted speaking slot, is set to address the convention at 1:40 p.m. MT.
Also on the agenda for Tuesday is a speech by Romney's wife, Ann. Mitt Romney is scheduled to fly to Tampa Tuesday, leading to speculation he may make an earlier than expected appearance at the convention.
Romney's acceptance speech will cap the final night of the convention on Thursday.
While there had been rumors for some time that Love would be invited to speak at the convention, she said she avoided thinking about what she’d say until the call came a little more than a week ago.
“The last thing you want to do is have something in your head and then prepare for it and have it not happen,” Love said. Instead, she said she focused on her race against Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, figuring if the opportunity didn’t come, “then I didn’t lose it.”
Love, who would be the first black GOP woman in Congress, has already had her share of high-profile attention. Earlier this month, both U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and the party’s 2008 nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, held events for her in Utah.
Romney will be portrayed in her speech as helping Americans achieve their version of the American dream as president, she said, by improving the economy.
"You can't reach any of your dreams without opportunity, and opportunity is work," Love said. "People are losing their opportunities to achieve their dreams. We're in essence losing the American dream."
She said she’ll settle her nerves Tuesday night the same way she did before winning the 4th District GOP nomination earlier this year at the party's Utah convention, by plugging headphones into her smartphone and listening to classical music.
As rain and wind lashed the floor-length windows of her hotel room Monday afternoon, Love asked Matheson for some advice about using the teleprompters and nodded at his suggestions about the pacing her speech.
Then she said, with a smile, that she would just wait to see what happened onstage.
“It’s like running, right?” Love said. “I don’t like to accelerate or slow down on the mountain when I’m running downhill. It’s just like I let the mountain tell me what I need to do.”
NBC News senior political editor Mark Murray said Love's appearance will be watched closely.
"It's a big deal," Murray said. "The Republican Party is trying to do it's best to produce a diverse face" and Love's personal story provides a counter to the party's difficulties with African-American and women voters.
Still, he said, there's at least some possible downside for her.
"The challenge for Mia Love is this is her first time doing something like this. There is a going to be a big national spotlight," Murray said. "There's always a little bit of a risk, but one thing about a national convention is everything is scripted."
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