SARATOGA SPRINGS — Mia Love said she's ready to run again in Utah's 4th Congressional District unless a Republican she deems strong enough to beat Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams enters the race.
"There isn't anyone that I believe can win right now," Love told the Deseret News Friday in a lengthy interview about the 4th District race that also touched on her frustrations with President Donald Trump likely being at the top of the GOP ticket.
McAdams, the only Democrat in Utah's congressional delegation, won by less than 700 votes, defeating Love's bid for a third term in the district that includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties.
Love said while there are at least three possible candidates she could support in the 4th District, none of them have decided to get in the race. Those who have, she said, don't have the ability to successfully take on the former Salt Lake County mayor.
So Love, now a commentator for CNN who often broadcasts from a studio in her Saratoga Springs home, said she's positioned to tap a network of supporters this fall if she feels the GOP choices are lacking.
"I still have some time. I still have all of my fundraising mechanisms in place. I still am close friends with the people who can make it happen in Washington and here," Love said. "When I need to turn on that faucet, I'll turn it on."
Love said she's discussed the race with her mentor in Congress, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., but also made it clear she wouldn't run unless she feels it's necessary to return the seat to Republicans.
"I'm really being selfish with my time right now," she said. "If I don't have to get in the race, I won't."
McAdams had little to say about a potential rematch with Love in November 2020, even though the National Republican Congressional Committee has made the race a top priority and has been actively recruiting candidates.
"At this point, I think it's far too early to focus on the election," McAdams said.
"My focus and attention is just on doing my job and serving the people of Utah and I'm working hard in a bipartisan manner and trying to tackle some of the tough issues we're facing," he said. "That's what Utahns want me to do right now."
In May, Love first raised the possibilityof what would be her fifth run for Congress, telling the Deseret News then that she'd been talking with Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., NRCC chairman, about the race.
Since then, Kathleen Anderson, a former Davis County GOP secretary who handled communications for the Utah GOP when her husband, Rob, served as chairman, has announced she's running as a "conservative outsider" for the seat.
“I’m not a career politician. In fact, I’ve never run for office before. This district, and our country, doesn’t need another politician in Washington. What is needed is a fighter who is not afraid to stand up for what is right," Anderson said.
But Love said an "incredibly fractured" Utah Republican Party wasn't able to provide support for her reelection bid when the Andersons were there and questioned their campaign skills.
"I think if they had the ability or the knowledge to be able to keep this seat, they would have been able to do it in the last election," Love said. "I can't see how they can make it happen."
Anderson thanked Love for her service in a statement and said she's always admired the former congresswoman.
"It's unfortunate, though, when a Republican feels the need to tear down another Republican. I've been underestimated throughout my life and have consistently proved my detractors wrong," Anderson said. "Today is no exception."
She said Love, "or anyone else for that matter, is welcome to enter this race. I look forward to a competitive primary," where voters can choose between "business as usual with more career politicians" or her as an outsider.
Other likely GOP candidates so far include state Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, and KSL NewsRadio host Jay Mcfarland. Love said she will meet with Coleman soon but said Mcfarland's interest in running seemed to "come out of left field."
She said "there's a difference between being a radio show host and really putting your actions behind your words," something she said she's seen since going to work for CNN.
Mcfarland "has decided to end his successful talk show and will be leaving KSL," KSL NewsRadio program director Kevin LaRue said, calling him "an important part of the KSL NewsRadio family for almost nine years."
Another Republican candidate, John Molnar, who has been campaigning largely on Twitter, says he's running to uphold the oath he made in the military to defend the nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Among his tweets are shots taken at New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, including one that made a crude reference to her anatomy; and at McAdams, for backing legislation in Congress to raise the age for tobacco use to 21.
Love said candidates she'd back include state Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, and state Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs. She said she's talked to Operation Underground Railroad CEO Tim Ballard about getting into politics.
Any of them, Love said, would make her feel she could stay out of the race.
Hemmert said he's still looking at a race and talking with his wife "to make sure I can represent the district well on a full-time basis" for his family and business while deciding whether to walk away from his Senate seat and leadership role.
"It's a big decision and not one that I'm taking lightly," Hemmert said. He said he's considering a congressional run because he's not confident others eyeing the race could win and would "absolutely support Mia if she wanted to run again."
Moss said he's been encouraged to consider a run for the same reason.
"I actually had no interest in running for this seat," Moss said. "I'm still feeling it out, but my inclination from the beginning is I'd really rather not."
When Love, the first black Republican woman in Congress, finally concededthe race to McAdams in late November 2018, her speech attracted national attention for her criticism of how Trump and the Republican Party treat minorities.
"We feel like politicians claim they know what's best for us, from a safe distance. Yet they're never willing to take us home" and into their hearts, she said then, so minority voters choose to "stay with Democrats and bureaucrats in Washington."
Love singled out Trump in her speech for his widely publicized postelection statement that she lost because she gave him "no love," spurning his offers of campaign help.
Friday, Love said it was important to her that she send a message to the president that "his words aren't going to affect the way I behave in a negative manner. I'm going to be empowered."
She said when people "see me, whether it's on CNN or if they see me as a candidate for office, they're going to say she has been honest and upfront. She's not following a person blindly."
But Love said if she runs, she anticipates opposition from the White House.
"They'll throw whoever they want under the bus. They demand 100% loyalty," she said. "I think that's what Utahns want to see. I've always wanted people to see me and say, 'What you see is what you get.'"
Love said she wrote in the name of now-Vice President Mike Pence for president in 2016 and isn't sure who'll she vote for in next year's presidential race.
"Let's put it this way, the options are very limited. There isn't anyone on the left that I could support right now. I was hoping that Howard Schultz would just kind of shake things up a little bit," Love said. The Starbucks CEO put his campaign on hold earlier this year.
Republicans should have "someone who's credible" to consider for president in 2020, besides former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who ran as a Libertarian vice presidential candidate in 2016.
"I think that it's important for us to push ideas and to have options and to hold people accountable," Love said, but Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, is not on her list of potential presidential contenders.
"Mitt has had his chance. He could have run in the last election. He decided not to," she said.
Love stopped short of saying she won't vote for a second term for Trump.
"I'm not committed to doing anything. I still have hopes. I want the president to succeed. I really do," Love said, but she and other voters aren't sure his "America first" message applies to them because of derogatory statements he's made.
Those include reports Trump used an obscenity to describe Haiti, her parents' homeland, as well as other nations including some in Africa, during a discussion on immigration.
"He's got this idea that you're either with us or you're not with us. You want to know. You want to feel included," Love said. "You just want to know that the leader of the country is cheering for you as an American."
Love lost her first bid for Congress in 2012, to longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. His retirement left an open seat that Love won in 2014 and again in 2016. Her loss to McAdams in 2018 followed a bitter and costly battle.
"It's always going to be a tough race for a Democrat in the 4th District," said BYU political science professor Chris Karpowitz, "I think a better-known opponent makes (McAdams') reelection chances a little more tenuous."
But Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said McAdams has the advantage of being the incumbent in the race this time and has steered clear of political pitfalls in the Democratic-controlled House.
As long as Democrats don't nominate a far-left presidential candidate like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Karpowitz said McAdams will benefit more from 2020 being a presidential election year associated with a big turnout.
Love, he said, has to make a case why voters should send her back to Congress after rejecting her candidacy in 2018, although she may be helped by raising concerns about Trump as a Republican.
David Woodard, a political science professor and pollster at Clemson University in South Carolina, said Love can count on support from outside Utah.
"I think she can win," Woodard said. "She spoke around the country. She came here one time and was very popular in her speaking engagements. So there'd be a lot of people who'd contribute to her and hope she gets back."
Love's national supporters, the longtime pollster in the early presidential voting state said, included conservative Christian voters who liked "what she had to say. She seemed to be a voice, you know, a black voice, for reason."
He said South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the U.S. Senate, has shown that "black voices are going to be very powerful in the Republican Party, where in the Democratic Party, they're just another part of the chorus."
Love "could be a popular spokesperson for an important demographic," Woodard said. "I'm sure she will attract the loyalty, well, maybe of a Tim Scott or some others who would come out and campaign for her and give her sort of a separate voice."
But given her dust-up with Trump after her loss, he said Love should steer clear of presidential politics if she gets in the race.
"I would advise her not to ever mention Trump, just sort of stay on the issues," Woodard said. "That might work to her favor, too, because a lot of people might say, 'I'm going to vote for her if Trump doesn't like her.'"
University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said the Utah congressional race is likely to attract attention nationally, even with the presidential race.
The 4th District seat will be seen as a must-win for Republicans to gain back control of the U.S. House, given that there aren't many truly competitive congressional districts, Scala said.
Also, he said, "Republicans are still sorely lacking for female candidates and persons of color among their elected politicans. … Her running would raise the profile of the race above the great majority of others."
Correction: An earlier version said another run for Congress would be Love's fourth. It should have said it would be her fifth.