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Scott G Winterton, ©Scott G Winterton/Deseret News 2014
Mia Love talks to supporters after a campaign rally Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi.
I have to say that I'm more prepared this time. It's nice to do it a second time because you have more of a grasp of the issues and understand where you are on the issues. There so much to learn. There's a lot going on nationally. —Mia Love

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs City Councilman Michael McOmber said his friend Mia Love, a former mayor of the Utah County community and a congressional candidate in the 4th District, turned to him for advice recently.

Love, who would be the first black Republican congresswoman if elected, was upset because she felt pressured to comment on the deadly police shooting in September of a young black man being described by his family as racially motivated.

"She said, 'Mike, that's just not my place. I'm not the mayor anymore. I'm a candidate for Congress and I have no real jurisdiction over that and they just keep calling. What should I do?' And I said, 'You've nailed it,'" McOmber said.

So instead of giving interviews about the shooting, Love issued a brief statement saying, "The last thing we need right now are politicians inflaming this tragedy with speculation and commentary" and calling it "inappropriate" for her to discuss it.

McOmber said he is someone Love trusts, "a safe place for her to go" when she needs to be reminded why she's running a second time for the seat held by retiring Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

After Love lost her last race for Congress by fewer than 800 votes, she left behind a campaign that had attracted attention around the country, including a prime speaking spot at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Now, Love is largely staying out of the national spotlight and being careful not only about what she comments on, but also where she chooses to appear. She has declined at least once to share a stage with her Democratic opponent, Doug Owens, but will do so Tuesday.

She spent much of last week huddling with her staff in preparation for the Utah Debate Commission's 4th District debate, making an exception for a fundraiser and rally Wednesday featuring a GOP star, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

While Love clearly appreciated the appearance by Romney, one of Utah's favorite politicians, she said she doesn't miss her high-profile bid to unseat an incumbent — or the big names it brought to her campaign.

Even though this race hasn't seen a parade of Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner, Arizona Sen. John McCain or Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, coming to Utah to campaign for her, Love said she still has plenty of support.

"I have a lot of people pulling for me. What I love about this is just being able to concentrate on being in the district," Love said, noting that in 2012, she spent a lot of time outside Utah campaigning for Romney.

"I was going to do everything I could to help Mitt, because that's what the voters wanted," Love said. Whether that may have made a difference in her narrow loss to Matheson, she said, "is just Monday morning quarterbacking."

This election, Love continues to talk about her parents, who emigrated from Haiti and instilled the importance of making a contribution in their American-born daughter, and her time as a councilwoman and mayor of Saratoga Springs.

Her campaign, she insists, will remain positive despite Owens' efforts to focus on statements Love made in 2012 about wanting to "get rid" of the U.S. Department of Education and end federal student aid and other programs.

Love has stopped short of backing off those statements, but has shifted her message on education this election to a call for Washington, D.C., to have less influence on Utah schools.

"Doug Owens can say whatever he wants to, but I'm telling people what I'm going to do. That's where I'm going to leave it. I've been a little bit more specific rather than broad statements," Love said.

Being pressed on her previous statements sparks another reaction from Love.

"One of the things that really frustrates me as a candidate is people talk about experience," she said, and discount her decade in local government, experience that exceeds what many male congressional candidates in her party have had.

"I have this unique perspective of dealing with everyday people every day. I think Washington has forgotten that," Love said. "There are times that I think, you know, I wonder if it were a male candidate if some of these things would be coming up."

But Love said she's worked hard to be ready this election, speaking about smaller government and turning back Obama's health care plan. She'll try to draw distinctions with Owens in Tuesday's debate.

"I have to say that I'm more prepared this time. It's nice to do it a second time because you have more of a grasp of the issues and understand where you are on the issues," she said. "There so much to learn. There's a lot going on nationally."

Her supporters see the change.

"She's come a long way," said state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, who has worked for Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "She's worked really hard in policy, in communication skills, in outreach, in all the skills she needs."

Henderson said she's helped Love with everything from policy to presentation.

"It's hard to be a woman. You want to show your passion. You want to show sometimes even your anger, your emotions, about certain things," the senator said. "She never wanted to come across as an angry black woman and get painted into that corner."

So Henderson said she taught Love to raise her eyebrows to soften her expression. Race adds a new dimension to a campaign, Henderson said, but Love has handled it well.

"She's instinctively really good at that," Henderson said, often using humor to deflect the issue, once telling a TV reporter she didn't think anybody noticed she was black.

Love's husband, Jason, said his wife has always had a healthy attitude about race.

"When she moved to Utah, she was caught off guard," he said. "People would come up to her in grocery stores and just compliment her....letting her know she was beautiful or that they were glad she was here."

The response to being an interracial family has also been welcoming, Jason Love said.

"We're not ignorant to the fact that racial prejudice exists," he said. The Loves are raising their children to see their differences "as beautiful. I think they like the variety," he said.

The couple first met when Jason Love was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Connecticut, and the then-Mia Bourdeau, a recent convert to the LDS Church, was referring a friend to him for teaching.

"She was standing next to a red Chevy Beretta and singing show tunes," Jason Love recalled of the University of Hartford graduate who studied musical theater, leaving the impression of being "a nice person with a beautiful voice."

They reconnected after she came to Utah to be closer to her new church. Jason Love said he was drawn to "her energy, her enthusiasm, her sense of adventure, her positive attitude" but didn't see her as political.

That changed when Mia Love took up a neighborhood cause, controlling swarms of tiny flies known as midges, and worked with the city and the developer to set up an abatement program.

"People saw Mia very quickly as someone who could get things done," he said, calling her a go-getter with an ability to bring people together. "People like Mia. I fell for her. She just has a contagious, positive attitude."

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