SALT LAKE CITY — The race between Republican incumbent Rep. Mia Love and her Democratic challenger, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, may still be too close to call in Utah, but President Donald Trump said Wednesday it's over.
At a White House news conference, Trump called out by name several Republican candidates who distanced themselves from him during the midterm campaign, including Love, first elected to represent the 4th Congressional District in 2014.
"You had some that decided, 'Let’s stay away. Let’s stay away.' They did very poorly. I’m not sure that I should be happy or sad but I feel just fine about it," the president said.
When he got to Love on his list, Trump said, "Mia Love. I saw Mia Love. She called me all the time to help with a hostage situation," a reference to Utahn Josh Holt, who was released earlier this year from a Venezuelan prison.
"But Mia Love gave me no love," he said. "She lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia."
However, many more ballots remain to be counted in Salt Lake and Utah counties, and both campaigns still see a path to victory. The latest statewide results posted Wednesday continue to show McAdams at 51 percent to 49 percent for Love.
The new numbers include an additional 3,784 votes reported Wednesday in Salt Lake County that narrowed McAdams' lead over Love there by less than a tenth of a percentage point.
McAdams is still at nearly 55 percent in Salt Lake County while Love remains at almost 45 percent. Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said more votes will be released on Thursday.
About 85 percent of the 4th District is in Salt Lake County, where McAdams has been elected mayor twice. Another 11 percent live in Utah County, where Love served as Saratoga Springs mayor.
The rest of the district is in Juab and Sanpete counties, where officials are reporting a total of 563 ballots remaining to be counted.
Love has lost in Salt Lake County in past races, but gone on to win because of strong support in the rest of the district. There are still more than 116,000 ballots to count in Salt Lake County, but it is not known how many of those are in the 4th District.
In Utah County, there are still almost 89,000 ballots yet to be counted. Scott Hogensen, Utah County's deputy clerk-auditor, said his "rough guess" is 1 in 7 of those ballots are from 4th District voters.
Love won 74 percent of the Utah County votes counted Tuesday, but no new results are set to be released there until Friday. Her campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said he believes even more of the uncounted Utah County votes are from the 4th District.
"There's a lot of guesstimating going on, but if you judge it on what's happened thus far, there's definitely a path to victory" for Love, Hansen said, adding that even though the change in Salt Lake County "was tiny, it moved in Mia's direction."
That's telling, he said, because "we're dealing with a race where small parts of a percent may make the difference."
McAdams is "just waiting and watching," campaign spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend said. She said the campaign had no reaction to Trump's comments about Love.
Hansen declined to comment on whether the White House had offered to have the president appear in Utah to stump for Love — who had the state's most competitive race — as part of his national tour in the weeks leading up to the election.
Trump made a campaign stop in Elko on Oct. 20 for Nevada candidates.
A Utah Republican insider who asked not to be identified said Love was hurt by not accepting help from Trump because the conservative voters she's counting on to push her over the top do back the president, despite his relative unpopularity in a GOP-dominated state.
Trump, the insider said, is "rightly disappointed. He helps free Josh Holt and gets no credit or gratitude from Mia. Then he offers to rally the GOP base in Utah and is ignored. He battles for every seat possible and then a few self-righteous people in red states lose? He's mad. He has the right to be. Her campaign staff blew it."
But Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, called it "somewhat odd" that the president called out Love because with so many votes still to be counted, she still has a "plausible path" to victory.
"If she ends up winning, his comments today make clear that she did it without his help," Karpowitz said. "More importantly, it's not at all clear that a visit from him would have been helpful to her."
He said the 4th District "turns on how independents and moderate Republicans will vote. These are groups that are not likely to have been energized for Mia Love by the president's involvement in the campaign."
Holt, a supporter of Love, said Thursday said he was "shocked" by the president's reference to the nearly two years he was held in a Venezuelan prison before his release in May.
"I didn't know that it was Mia's responsibility to need to ask the president to help one of their citizens," he said. "I thought that was the entire U.S. government's responsibility to get me out of that situation, not just Mia Love's and Sen. Hatch's."
Contributing: Annie Knox