SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Rep. Mia Love said she still hasn’t entirely ruled out running again in 2020 for the 4th Congressional District seat she held for two terms before losing to Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams — but where she’d really like to be is in the U.S. Senate.
“I think the House of Representatives is not as well-suited for somebody who really wants to focus on getting certain policies done. Immigration is a big issue, a big policy, that I’m still really passionate about. If I ever did anything, I might think about the Senate race,” Love, now a CNN commentator, told the Deseret News.
“If there was an opportunity that presented itself and I felt I could be useful to Utah, then I would do it,” she said.
However, Love said she isn’t looking to challenge the reelection of either Sen. Mike Lee, expected to run for a third term in 2022, or Sen. Mitt Romney, up for a second term in 2024, describing them as “both doing a good job as far as I’m concerned,” along with the rest of the state’s Republican delegation members.
That’s not the case when it comes to McAdams, who beat Love by less than 700 votes in 2018. In her concession speech, Love labeled the former Salt Lake County mayor a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and criticized him for negative campaign tactics.
Last July, Love said she was ready to run again if a Republican didn’t get in the race that she believed could unseat McAdams. One of her preferred candidates, state Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, did announce a bid a month later but dropped out in December, citing concerns about the impact on his dry-cleaning business.
“That was incredibly disappointing,” Love said, especially since Hemmert had raised more than $400,000 for the race and been added to a list of the most competitive candidates in the country by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Now, Love said she’s back to being unsure there’s a Republican candidate who can defeat McAdams.
She called former NFL player Burgess Owens a good candidate but said he’s making little progress in the polls. Other Republicans include former Utah GOP communications adviser Kathleen Anderson, state Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, former KSL Newsradio host Jay Mcfarland and nurse practitioner Chris Biesinger.
“I don’t see anything. Once again, if I find that this is going to be an easy race for Ben, then I can’t allow that to happen,” she said, even if it means running again herself. That’s something she’ll have to decide in January, Love said, expressing no concern about raising the millions of dollars the race is likely to cost.
“It’s a lot to do. But it would be a lot to do for anybody at this point, and it would be a lot for anybody to do who hasn’t been raising money for the past year,” she said. “I would be playing catch-up, yes. But I wouldn’t have any doubt because I still have the connections. I still have the donor lists.”
Love also brought up the possibility of other Republicans getting in the race, declining to name them.
“It’s not an easy district, so it’s hard to get good people to get in it because I think people like to have easier races,” she said. Love lost her first bid in 2012 to represent the district that includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties against then-Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat.
After Matheson retired two years later, Love won the seat in a tight race and was reelected.
McAdams’ campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, had little to say about the possibility of a rematch with Love.
“The congressman isn’t focused on election year politics,” Roberts said in a statement. “Instead, he’s hard at work finding bipartisan solutions to the rising cost of prescription drugs and protecting Social Security — issues Utahns sent him to D.C. to address.”
Hemmert, owner of the Red Hanger Cleaners chain, said Love “has every right to be frustrated with me. Frankly, I’m frustrated with myself. But my business, my partner, my livelihood and my employees have to be my first priority, and it just wasn’t the right time.”
He has declined to make an endorsement, but said “there are great candidates in the race right now. That said, if other people want to jump in that race, they should, including Mia Love.” Hemmert said he expects whoever wins the Republican primary election to take the seat from McAdams.
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, suggested Love would be a tough challenger in the congressional race.
“Mia Love would be a formidable candidate because she’s better known than other Republicans who have announced,” Karpowitz said. “Her task will be to explain why 4th District voters should give her another chance after they turned her out of office once before.”
He said Love, the first black Republican congresswoman, also would face questions about declaring in her concession speech that she felt “unshackled” and finally able to speak her mind on issues, as well as about her relationship with President Donald Trump, who criticized Love publicly for not accepting his campaign help.
Love said if she runs again, she’d still do it without any assistance from the president.
“I don’t mind if you’re a fan of the president. I do mind when you allow someone at the White House to do all your thinking for you,” she said, telling Republican candidates it’s important to “be an independent thinking, to speak up and realize who you actually represent. There’s such a lack of that. It’s so frustrating.”
But Love told KSL Newsradio guest host Kirk Jowers she “definitely” would have voted against impeaching Trump on charges he abused his power by pressuring a foreign leader to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and obstructed Congress’ inquiry into his actions.
McAdams’ vote for impeachment will hurt him with 4th District voters, Love told the Deseret News.
“Although he didn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi (for House speaker), he certainly went and stayed the line. And I think that vote was mainly because he would have lost national Democrat support. That’s what I believe. They have a way of keeping you, you know. There are times when you have to give that up,” she said.
That’s something Love said she knows firsthand.
“It might have been easier for me if I were completely in lockstep with the president. It might have been easier,” she said. “But I have to sleep at night. I have to face my children. ... I can say without a doubt, there isn’t a vote, there wasn’t an issue, that I felt like I sold my district out.”
McAdams is “making it difficult for himself,” Love said. “There are times where Democrats feel like they can’t support him, they can’t count on him, and Republicans feel like they can’t count on him. I mean, I listen to (his) town halls. He tries to sound like a Republican but votes Democrat.”
Love seemed to be leaning away from a congressional run.
“I never rule anything out,” she said. “I’ve got some other things going on and certainly, this would have been a different answer is Dan were still in the race. ... But I’m getting pretty close to the point where I’m going to have to say someone else is going to have to do it.”
Karpowitz said if Love doesn’t get into the 4th District race, she may have a long wait before a Senate seat is open.
“If she holds off to run for the Senate but doesn’t want to challenge Romney or Lee, it could be many years before an opportunity is available,” he said.
Love had positive words for both Romney and Lee.
“Romney, I like the fact that he is an independent voice, he’s not shy, to say what he feels. You have to respect that” she said, a reference to the 2012 presidential nominee’s sometimes critical statements about the president. Love said although she’s disagreed with Lee on some issues, “we’ve always been able to communicate.”
Lee’s quiet efforts to help Trump in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial, Love said, are “what the majority of his constituents want him to do. I don’t think Utah is there. If you look at the polling, certainly the president doesn’t have the highest approval rating, but the president will win in the state of Utah.”
The only way Love said she would run against either of Utah’s senators is if “something drastic happens where I thought they couldn’t represent us anymore.” Otherwise, she said, “if they both decide to run they would both have my support.”