Mia Love says she might have to run against Ben McAdams if Utah Republicans can’t recruit a strong candidate

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Mia Love makes an appearance at her election night party to thank supporters at the Hilton Garden Inn in Lehi on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. The race was too close to call on election night and wasn't conclusive until nearly two weeks later.

Mia Love may not be done with bruising congressional campaigns just yet.

Now a commentator with CNN after losing one of the tightest congressional races in the nation last year, Love told the Deseret News she’s considering a rematch against first-term Rep. Ben McAdams, largely because she doesn’t think any of the Republican challengers who have stepped forward so far can unseat the Utah Democrat.

“If I don’t have to get in the race, I won’t,” she told the News.

Love did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Salt Lake Tribune. But several sources close to the former two-term congresswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Love is seriously weighing her options but at present is unlikely to run in 2020.

Andrew Roberts, McAdams’ campaign manager, said the Democratic congressman is not currently focused on reelection.

“He’s focused on doing exactly what he promised he’d do when he ran for Congress," Roberts said, "by finding ways to break through the partisan divide and forge bipartisan agreements on issues that affect the lives of everyday Utahns and their families.”

Love’s interview with the Deseret News came shortly after Republican candidates began to make their intentions known, starting with Kathleen Anderson.

Anderson is a Bountiful resident and the wife of former Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson. In a YouTube video, she painted herself as a conservative outsider. And then there’s John Molnar, from Eagle Mountain, who is new to politics and running a social-media-heavy campaign as an Army veteran.

Other potential challengers include West Jordan Rep. Kim Coleman, and Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie.

Love seemed to cast blame on Kathleen Anderson and her husband for her loss, suggesting they didn’t have the knowledge or ability to “keep this seat” in the last election.

In a prepared statement, Anderson said she’s always admired Love but that it’s unfortunate when Republicans feel the need to tear one another down.

“I’ve been underestimated throughout my life and have consistently proven my detractors wrong,” Anderson said. “Today is no exception.”

Molnar told The Tribune on Monday that he sees Love’s recent comments as a publicity stunt.

“This isn’t the first time she and her staff have announced she might enter the race, but might not,” he said. “If she does [run], I’ll gladly welcome the challenge, same as anyone else.”

The news of Love’s potential run was also met with considerable skepticism on social media, with many Utah Republicans — including some former lawmakers and candidates for party office — voicing interest in new prospects for the 4th District, the state’s only competitive congressional seat despite a strong conservative advantage.

If she does enter the race, this will be Love’s fifth run in a row. She lost to Rep. Jim Matheson by 768 votes in 2012, then went on to win in 2014 and 2016 over Democrat Doug Owens, before losing to McAdams in 2018 by 694 votes.

“Time for a new voice and campaign strategy,” former Utah lawmaker Matt Throckmorton wrote on a prominent Facebook discussion thread. “I’m supporting Rep. Kim Coleman.”

“Delusional, Mia,” wrote Sylvia Miera-Fisk, one of four candidates who ran in this year’s Utah Republican Party chair’s race. “YOU couldn’t beat McAdams.”

Coleman waved off Love’s remarks.

“I can’t worry about what other people think or say," she said. "We’re just at the exploring stage but I am already amazed at the level of grassroots enthusiasm and support I am seeing. So we will keep working and see how things go.”

Love, who was once friends with McAdams, didn’t hide her disdain for the man who defeated her, calling him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” at a news conference after she conceded the race.

In that same news conference, she criticized President Donald Trump and the Republican Party for not making minority voters and candidates feel more welcome. She noted that Trump took a swipe at her while votes were still being counted in her race.

The president had said: “Mia Love gave me no love and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Love said comments like that “shine the spotlight on the problems Washington politicians have with minorities and black Americans. It’s transactional. It’s not personal. You see we feel like politicians claim they know what’s best for us from a safe distance, but they’re never willing to take us home.”

Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said officeholders often have a hard time stepping away after a narrow defeat, especially after having some time to reflect on what they could have done differently or on the outside influences that may have impacted their contest.

“The dynamics may change enough and the demographics may change enough that she would be able to [do] more than close that 1 percent margin,” he said.

One huge influence in the 2018 contest was a rare slate of ballot initiatives in Utah, namely the fight over medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion, that increased turnout and may have shifted the normal voting population a step to the left.

It is possible that there will be ballot initiatives in 2020 — a carbon tax effort is underway now — and it is a presidential year. How Utahns respond to Trump and any of his possible Democratic challengers is not yet known.

But beyond those outside factors, Perry said, Love would have to explain why voters should consider her again after she served and lost.

“She will need to be very clear in her message about why she wants to run and how she can have an impact in Washington, D.C.,” Perry said.

Damon Cann, a professor of political science at Utah State University, said the fact that Love is commenting on running in 2020 suggests a legitimate interest in a rematch with McAdams. Cann suggested the reactions to her comments may help her gauge her chances.

“If she does run,” Cann said, “the sooner she declares the better since whoever is chasing that seat is going to have to raise a lot of money.”

Cann said Love would have the benefit of running against McAdams’ record, instead of his hypothetical positions. But she’d also face the challenge of satisfying a Republican base in Utah that is divided between those who are devoted supporters of Trump and those who hold the president at arm’s length.

“Striking that balance could be even more difficult in 2020," Cann said, “when Trump’s reelection campaign draws more attention to the issue.”

Brigham Young University professor Adam Brown said Love’s record of losing by narrow margins and winning by large margins could suggest an average likelihood of success in 2020. But the political landscape is relatively unchanged since 2018, when Love was defeated by McAdams, Brown said, with Trump’s approval ratings and the nation’s economy largely in the same position as before.

“The longer one party holds the White House, the more voters get fatigued with that party,” Brown said, “which may work against her in a repeat Love-McAdams race in 2020.”

Love, one of the most aggressive congressional fundraisers in the nation, left the 2018 race with $42,200 in her campaign account. She raised millions largely through a nationwide mail campaign that highlighted her status as the first black Republican woman elected to Congress.

As of his last filing, McAdams has about $200,000 in available cash, for what could quite possibly be another race that would cost in the neighborhood of $5 million.

Tribune Senior Managing Editor Matt Canham contributed to this report.