SALT LAKE CITY — This time, it's personal for Rep. Mia Love in facing Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams in her bid for a third term representing Utah's 4th Congressional District.
While Love said she'd rather be talking about her effectiveness as a member of Congress, including passing several bills, both the Republican congresswoman and her husband, Jason, said McAdams stunned them by abruptly ending a friendship between the two families to run for the seat.
"I was really, really shocked. I found that the integrity I would have expected from a friend wasn't there," Mia Love said in a recent interview. "He completely stopped taking our phone calls to even have a discussion about it."
Jason Love was more blunt.
"For 3 ½ years, Ben McAdams and his family actually befriended us. We spent time at movies and dinners and baseball games and come to find out they were only gathering reconnaissance on us," he said.
Democrat McAdams said in a statement the two families "had a friendly relationship, seeing each other at soccer games and other events. But as time went on and I watched the votes she was taking that hurt Utahns, I saw that she's changed."
He said "the Mia Love I had known is not the Mia Love I see now. She's become a typical Washington politician and not someone that puts Utah first. That's the representation we need — someone like me who puts people above politics."
But Love points to her collaboration with President Donald Trump and the State Department to secure the release of Utahn Josh Holt from a Venezuelan prison as part of her record of helping others.
She's had five bills passed in the House, including legislation ensuring taxpayers aren't paying settlements in sex harassment claims made against members of Congress as part of a package of reforms.
Her bill to help small community banks provide loans to families and small businesses was included in the bipartisan Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act that was signed into law in May.
"I can say no matter what happens, I do my very best," Love said. "You don't have all the funds in the world to let people know all the things that we've done. But we've worked really hard."
Love brought up the rift with the McAdamses in response to a question about how this race was different than her previous congressional races, which started in 2012 with a loss to then-Rep. Jim Matheson, the last Democrat elected to Congress from Utah.
She proceeded to spend about a third of what was scheduled to be a half-hour interview criticizing McAdams and his campaign, describing him as "incredibly dishonest, not just to me, but to voters."
Despite beating Democrat Doug Owens in 2014 and again in 2016, Love said they've been able "to put all of that behind us" and work together on outdoor recreation issues.
The tension in what was already expected to be the most competitive race in the state this year, clearly visible in a series of negative TV commercials aired by both candidates, is something Love, 42, said she doesn't want her children to see.
Her oldest daughter, Alessa, 18, a Utah State University freshman, has been involved with the issue of violence in schools, "so I see some positive impacts. Obviously, it can get a little stressful, but I try and keep them away from the TV," the congresswoman said.
With their mother in Washington much of the time, Jason Love said he's the parent who usually makes schools runs, supervises homework and prepares meals — pancakes are a speciality — for Abigail, 15, and Peyton, 11.
"You miss Mom no matter what you're doing," Jason Love, vice president of a cost-estimation software company, said. "It's just the typical workweek grind. But they really have a neat and special relationship with their mother."
The children, he said, sometimes accompany the congresswoman on her duties, "opportunities to see they're not necessarily the center of the world … that they need to spend their time engaged in service-oriented pursuits."
But since the election of Donald Trump two years ago, Jason Love said the family has felt more pressure from the GOP president's opponents who are encouraged "to be more bold in how they confront people in a disrespectful way."
He said people have shown up at the family's home, taken pictures and posted their address. While Jason Love blames Democrats, he is quick to add that all political parties have "good people" as well as "those who want to make life difficult."
Mia Love told a Fox News radio host in September that "absolutely" Democrats were targeting her as a Republican candidate because of her race, following accusations that she illegally took in $1 million for a primary race that never materialized.
Love, whose campaign denies any wrongdoing and has said they are redesignating some $370,000 and refunding $10,800 in contributions, said Democrats want to be in control.
"They do not like the fact that I am a black female Republican doing everything I possibly can to talk about issues that help people go from the lowest common denominator up," she said on the national radio program.
"It's obvious. I am the only black Republican female in all of Congress," Love said, and the only GOP member of the Congressional Black Caucus. "I don't think it's an issue for Utah. But I do think that nationally, it's an issue for the Democratic Party."
Her husband, who is white, said the Democratic Party "likes to have a monopoly on ethnic minorities, and as part of that, she does get singled out" for standing for conservative "principles that bless humans" regardless of race.
"We have a mixed-race family and it's very important for people to be able to acknowledge that there's variation among humans," Jason Love said, "something that we should be able to talk about respectfully."
State Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who helped encourage the then-Saratoga Springs mayor to make her first run for Congress, said he believes Love's most intense race was against Matheson, who ended up winning by less than 800 votes.
"I think that first race really convinced Mia that she wanted to be part of the U.S. Congress," McCay said. "It really comes down to, is a person willing to do what it takes to get elected."
He recently joined with other Republican state lawmakers and local mayors at a news conference to call McAdams' commercials about county property tax rates during his tenure "deceptive." McAdams stands by the claims.
McCay, who is running for the state Senate, said Utah benefits from what he termed "ladies who are inspirational and hardworking representatives" and questioned the committment of Democrats to diversity.
"Having a female represent us to Washington, D.C., is a great step forward," he said. "The irony is, well, they only want diversity in representation if it's their party. It's clear when you consider that they're running another white male against a black female. It's frustrating, honestly."
McCay said the concern he hears is about Love running as a mother.
"Sadly, the people who are most hard on Mia have been other women," he said. "The conversation always is, 'Doesn't she have kids? How does she have time?'" It's a question the father of six said he's never been asked.
Love's longtime friend, Heidi Balderree, thinks of her as tenacious and a trailblazer, someone who passed five bills in the U.S. House but makes time when she's home to run in races and cook recipes passed down from her Haitian parents.
"She's done a lot," said Balderree, who serves as the Utah County GOP secretary. The one complaint she said she hears from Love is how slowly everything moves in Washington.
"She challenges them. She wants to move things faster," Balderree said. "She's got the desire to move forward and she's relentless. If you know her, she's not someone who backs down."
Where she stands
Supports the $1.5 trillion tax cut she said is expected to reduce an average Utahn's taxes by roughly $2,000 and resulted in bonuses for employees of numerous companies in the state.
Forced votes on immigration legislation, intended to help undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children known as "Dreamers," through a seldom-used procedural manuever when House leadership failed to advance the bills.
Backs legislation to help prevent school shootings and to strengthen background checks. She said she continues to discuss additional solutions to prevent weapons from getting in the hands of violent criminals.