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Utahn Mia Love makes history as first black Republican woman in Congress

First Published      Last Updated Feb 17 2016 04:57 pm

District 4 » She becomes the first black Republican woman in Congress and the face of diversity for the national GOP.

Republican Mia Love succeeded Tuesday where she fell short two years ago, besting Democrat Doug Owens in Utah's 4th District to become the first black Republican woman to win a congressional seat in 160 years of the Grand Old Party.

After trailing Owens much of the night, she pulled ahead as late results rolled in from Utah and Salt Lake counties and claimed a narrow victory, 64,390 votes to 60,165 votes or 50 percent to 47 percent.

"Many people said Utah would never elect a black, Republican, LDS woman to Congress. And guess what ... we were the first to do it," she told cheering supporters Tuesday night.

LIVE CHAT: At 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, join political scientists as they discuss the election results and what they mean to Utah politics.

Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, was joined by her parents and family as she declared victory.

"I am going to represent all of you in Washington," Love said. "This is a great night for our nation and, I have to tell you, it is especially a great night for Utah."

Love was making her second bid for Congress after falling to Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson by a slim 768 votes two years ago — despite having the benefit of Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket in a heavily Republican district.

This time, Matheson, the only Democratic member of the Utah delegation, sat out the race, leaving Congress after 14 years. His departure made Love an immediate front-runner for the seat and left Democrats in a pinch.

Owens, the son of the late U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens, stepped into the fray, but was outmatched moneywise as Love tapped a nationwide network of supporters — built in large part on the strength of her heralded speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention — to spend $4.7 million on the race, roughly seven times as much as Owens.

Damon Cann, a political science professor at Utah State University, said Love's win is big for the national GOP.

"Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republicans have been more serious about trying to showcase the diversity within the Republican Party," he said, "and Mia Love is potentially the poster child for diversity in the party."

Owens followed the Matheson playbook, appealing to moderate Republicans and independents, while bashing Love for statements she had made in 2012 indicating that she would do away with the Department of Education, eliminate federally subsidized student loans and slash billions from other federal programs.

Love distanced herself from her 2012 positions — saying she was just trying to start a discussion on how to balance the federal budget — and accused Owens of attacking her personally, rather than debating the issues.

Owens called that a dodge, saying Love was trying to divert attention from her "radical" positions on the issues.

"It's [one] thing to change your position and another thing to deny having said what you said," Owens said during a debate between the two candidates. "Voters have not been getting straight answers when they've asked [for] them."

The Matheson model fell short for Owens, but a survey by Utah Colleges Exit Poll found that voters likely would have re-elected the Democratic congressman, preferring him to Love by a margin of 52 percent to 40 percent.

Said Cann: "There has got to be [national Democrats] saying, 'I wish we'd gotten into this race, because it shouldn't be this close.' "

Owens conceded just before midnight.

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