Did America Just Dodge the Next Sarah Palin?

Mia Love was supposed to be the first black Republican woman in Congress.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Love was the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, a recently-incorporated, fast-growing suburb of Salt Lake City.

She had a newly redrawn Congressional district that put six-term Congressman Jim Matheson, a Blue Dog Democrat and a member of a politically prominent Utah Mormon family, in a precarious position.

She had a big-time spot as a speaker at the Republican National Convention.

She had Republican All-Stars like Condoleeza Rice, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Mitt Romney raising money and programming robocalls for her.

And she’d even been the star of one of those new “I’m a Mormon” LDS Church public relations campaign videos.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s pollsters gave Love a 12-point lead on November 2.

But against the odds, Jim Matheson held onto his seat, as Love failed to launch her Congressional career.

 

What happened?

There was the Libertarian candidate who drew away 5,000 votes—twice as many as Matheson’s 2646-vote margin of victory.

There was a growing and increasingly organized Latino community in Salt Lake County.

There was also Jim Matheson’s outstanding reputation as a public servant and his legendary ground game, which moved more Democrats to the polls than in years past.

And there were mistakes.

Like a barrage of negative ads bought with outside money that may have turned off voters Love needed.

And Love’s own extreme and simplistic positions, including her move to defund Social Security, the Department of Education, federally-subsidized education grants and guaranteed loans, and even federal grants to local police forces.

Her lack of experience, the abruptness of her leap from small-town mayor to Congressional candidate, and a lack of depth on crucial issues became apparent during campaign debates. Additionally, some Saratoga Springs locals say that Love’s national campaign distracted her from serving her own constituents when wildfires hit in June and flooding in September.

And then there was Love’s chaotic campaign. According to Utah Policy, Love dumped her local team and ran through four different campaign managers and three different communications directors.

Love was supposed to have benefited, according to BYU professor Quin Monson, from a desire among Mormon Republicans in this deeply Mormon Republican district to send a clear message to the nation that the faith had overcome its racist past.

But instead of sending a symbolic message, the voters of Utah’s 4th district ended up sending the state’s only Democratic Congressman back to Washington, D.C.

 

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.