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Mia Love still riding high but some question if she's moving ahead

SALT LAKE CITY — Mia Love continues to ride the political wave she caught this spring that carried her to the Republican nomination in Utah's new 4th Congressional District.

National news programs including Today, FoxNews, MSNBC and CNN have featured the Saratoga Springs mayor. She has become the darling of the conservative blogosphere where she is seen as a rising star. She has backing from prominent Republicans including Sen. John McCain, House Speaker John Boehner, newly named vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan as well as the endorsement of Mitt Romney's wife, Ann.

There's even talk about her getting a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention this month.

But is her campaign going anywhere?

Some political observers have described it as disorganized and said new-found celebrity could be trumping her message here in Utah. The online political newsletter Utah Policy quoted an unidentified Republican strategist saying while there's a lot of motion around the campaign, there isn't a lot of progress toward upending incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.

Love has read some of the criticism but dismisses it as political chatter.

"People are going to say whatever they want to say. There's going to be rumors out there. I think it's just to derail me from my message. It's not going to work," she said.

To promote her fiscal discipline and personal responsibility ideas, she said she needs to raise money and get her name out. And the "national stuff" is a way to do that.

"I really think we're being correctly balanced," Love said.

Love swept to the GOP nomination in surprisingly easy fashion, dispatching a pair of well-known former Utah legislators at the state Republican Party convention in April. Network news shows, political websites and bloggers quickly started calling and haven't stopped. The campaign says it turns down the vast majority of those interview requests.

Love would be the first black Republican woman in Congress if elected in November.

Before that could happen she would have to beat Matheson, a feat no Republican has managed in six elections. Love might be his toughest challenger yet.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has taken a keen interest in the race, committing nearly $1 million for TV ads after Labor Day. It touts Love as one its "Young Guns" and offers campaign guidance.

"This is the race I get asked about more than any other in the country," said Daniel Scarpinato, western regional NRCC spokesman.

Love described her campaign as going "really, really well" and said she couldn't be happier.

"I don't know what could be running wrong," she said. "Grassroots is running well. We were toe to toe with Matheson in raising money and I think we're going to outraise him next quarter."

Matheson pulled in $361,000 from April to June, while Love raised $355,000. The incumbent still has $1 million more in the bank than she does.

"She's doing very well with fundraising and that's going to add to her credibility as a challenger," said Brigham Young University political science professor Quin Monson.

Monson said the Love campaign displayed some disorganization early on, probably due to inexperience. The state and national parties have helped her work through some of those bumps, he said. Love has changed campaign managers several times since April. Currently it's Matt Holton, a former staffer for Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

A state GOP call center opening last month drew so many volunteers for Love that it stopped signing up people after 250. On a recent Saturday, Love said, volunteers made 5,700 calls from the center.

Love will need outside help to keep pace with Matheson's decade of experience, Monson said. Matheson, he said, is a proven commodity as a campaigner and has a knack for connecting with Utah voters.

"I think she's a formidable candidate, but I think he's a political juggernaut," Monson said.

Two recent polls show Love trailing Matheson by double digits. A Deseret News/KSL survey has Matheson leading 53 percent to 38 percent, while the House Majority PAC shows him up 51-33. The PAC aims to get Democrats elected to Congress.

Love said she is "ecstatic" about the results, saying previous candidates were not as close to Matheson as she is at the stage of the race.

"That's his ceiling. For a 12-year incumbent? If I were Jim Matheson I would be concerned that I can't hit past 51 percent after being in office for 12 years," she said.

Monson said he sees the race coming down to how the candidates try to define each other, which has already started in both camps. Matheson depicts Love as a conservative extremist. Love paints Matheson as a footman for President Barack Obama.

"We ought to expect that they'll start punching each other harder as the race tightens," Monson said.


Twitter: dennisromboy