Utah congressional candidate Mia Love will have a place in the national spotlight, landing a prime-time speaking role at the Republican National Convention, the party announced Tuesday.
Love, who is challenging six-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, will address the GOP gathering in Tampa on the evening of Aug. 28, a coveted prime-time slot for the candidate who has been billed as a rising Republican star.
"The message I want to convey is that Barack Obama has accelerated this country into a downward spiral and that the only way there's any hope of getting out of this is electing Mitt Romney," Love said. "So I'm hoping everyone is inspired and ready to go out and do whatever they can to help Mitt Romney and [running mate] Paul Ryan get elected."
Love has the early speaking spot Tuesday evening. She will be introduced with a video that highlights her personal story and tenure as mayor of Saratoga Springs before her speech.
She is scheduled to be followed by former presidential candidate and Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, then a parade of governors that includes Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. The evening ends with a keynote address from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"It's a great introduction for Mia to her future constituents in the 4th Congressional District, and it shows how well Mia can represent on the national stage, which is what being in Congress is all about," said Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright. "It will show she embraces her party's nominee, while her opponent says he embraces his, but won't go to the national convention."
The addition of Love to the lineup brings more diversity to the convention card. She is one of at least three black Republicans who will address the convention, along with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Alabama's former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, who now supports Romney.
"Ms. Love is in the demographic the Republican Party desperately needs, which is a non-white-male speaking at the convention," said University of Utah political scientist Thad Hall. "She also is a person who is very conservative and symbolic of the ideological positions of the party, so she allows her party to get their message out and use a messenger who isn't just another white guy."
Hall said the reach of her speech may not be significant nationally, since the conventions are not watched broadly anymore, but local media coverage will help her campaign in Utah "and that will be a big boost to her campaign."
Matheson shrugged off questions about whether Love's address would catapult her campaign.
"It just validates what I've said. She's all about political party. I'm all about Utah," he said. "If she speaks about her positions on wanting to get rid of student loans, bulletproof vests for cops, get rid of the sex-offender registry, get rid of Social Security, I'd love it if she said those things, but I don't think we'll hear any of that in her speech."
Love shot back that Matheson has not been about Utah and said he is mischaracterizing her views.
"You cannot be all about Utah while advancing an agenda Barack Obama's agenda the people of Utah do not support," she said. "Like Obama is doing with Mitt Romney, Matheson is attempting to distort my positions and my record because he cannot talk about his. He has voted against Utah far too many times to cover up with baseless attacks and recycled slogans."
Love's appearance at the convention will be the highest-profile speech and largest audience of her relatively young political career, which began when she was elected to the Saratoga Springs City Council in 2003 and then mayor in 2009.
Until now, her most prominent address came at this year's Utah Republican Convention, where she was widely praised for a fiery, dynamic seven-minute address en route to clinching the party's nomination for the 4th District seat.
"I didn't think I'd do more than a term [on the City Council] and this is never something I aspired to do," she said. "No, I would have never thought [I'd be here]. Never."
Despite the nearly 50,000 who are expected to attend the convention and millions more who will be watching at home, Love said she isn't nervous at least not yet.
"Really, I think it's so important to tell the truth about the realities we've been facing here. So I guess I'm not freaked out about it just yet," she said, "because there has to be a message that has to be portrayed about the situation that our country is in, and we have to do everything we can to get that message out."
Then-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman landed a prime-time speaking slot at the 2008 convention, assigned with introducing and nominating Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was Arizona Sen. John McCain's vice presidential pick. It was a moment he might rather forget.
Fighting a cold, Huntsman rasped and squeaked his way through his effusive praise for Palin. Huntsman explained to NBC News late last year that he was a McCain loyalist and "I was asked to do it and I did as told."
The Republican National Convention takes place Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla., at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Democratic National Convention takes place Sept. 4-6 in Charlotte, N.C., at Time Warner Cable Arena and Bank of America Stadium.