This time, Mia Love might really be serious.
It’s not that she didn’t give it the old college try last year. The Saratoga Springs mayor swept a field of more seasoned politicians at the state convention to win the Republican nomination for the 4th Congressional District. Then she tapped into a financial vein of national conservative enthusiasm to come within 700 votes of beating six-term incumbent Democrat Jim Matheson.
But there were problems with her campaign from the outset. Her team of young, passionate newbies got her through the convention, but were replaced with veteran political operatives as the Republican National Congressional Committee, eyeing a chance to pick up a Democratic seat, took control of the campaign.
Then the Republican State Committee stepped in after it appeared Love’s campaign was in disarray, with GOP State Chairman Thomas Wright and Executive Director Ivan Dubois playing a hands-on role.
The changes caused resentment among previously committed party workers who felt they had been unfairly cast aside, creating holes in the campaign’s vision in the final weeks before the election.
The 4th Congressional District seemed tailor-made for Love, drawing from her home turf of northwest Utah County plus the conservative pockets of southwest Salt Lake County. Her potential to become the first African-American Republican woman to serve in Congress attracted unprecedented attention from national GOP circles.
Still, Love’s performance fell short.
In her district, she received thousands fewer votes than fellow Republicans Mitt Romney for president, Gary Herbert for governor and Orrin Hatch for senator.
That means that a significant number of Republicans crossed over to vote for Matheson in the congressional race. Part of that must be credited to the popularity and political strength of Matheson, but Republicans have also blamed the lack of consistency in her campaign.
So this time, as Love prepares for a second go against Matheson in 2014, enter Dave Hansen.
The former state party chairman and regional RNC political strategist, who boasts a campaign victory record that would make Karl Rove jealous, has signed on as a paid political consultant for Love’s 2014 congressional re-run.
While he won’t hold the title, his presence means that Hansen will basically run the campaign, and he has the national street cred to keep the Republican National Congressional Committee folks, who had a hand in screwing up the last campaign, at bay.
Hansen guided Hatch through the tea-party swamps to secure the GOP nomination and avoid the fate of his colleague Bob Bennett, who lost in the state convention in 2010.
He’s had a hand in numerous other convention and primary victories for Republicans, including Congressman Rob Bishop’s primary win for the 1st Congressional District in 2002.
Rumble in the jungle • The battle for the political soul of the Republican Party continues.
Since Wright recently announced he will not seek re-election at the party’s organizing convention later this year, the right-wing tea-party faction of the party and the establishment conservatives are scurrying to find a candidate who will represent their particular political philosophy.
So far, we have on the right-wing side former gubernatorial and congressional candidate Morgan Philpot versus former congressional candidate and former state Rep. Carl Wimmer.
While it’s certainly no done deal, and it’s not certain that either one actually wants the job, their names are the ones most prominently promoted by the tea-party crowd.
Wimmer, after losing his congressional bid to Love in the state convention, has landed a job as a resource cop at a high school in Sanpete County.
Philpot, after losing his bid for governor at that same state convention, briefly ran a conservative think tank involving an online political magazine and newsletter.
On the establishment side, the names most discussed are Michelle Scharf, who helped get Jason Chaffetz elected to Congress in 2008 and worked on Hatch’s last campaign against former Salt Lake County Republican chairman James Evans.
So let the fun begin.