Love or hate her, Mia Love is a novelty, a dichotomy of juxtaposing stereotypes—African American and Republican, stay-at-home mom and congressional candidate, daughter of Haitian immigrants and tough on immigration. Oh, and she’s Mormon.
And while her bifurcated bio is counterintuitive, her appeal to the GOP is clear. Voters are looking for something new, something different. One needs look no further than the last presidential cycle for evidence. Regardless of what you thought of Obama's candidacy, one thing is beyond reproach: it offered something different.
Even Senator McCain sensed the public's appetite for something unconventional, prompting him to take one of the biggest risks in presidential election history—nominating Sarah Palin. And while she was woefully under-qualified and not adequately prepared or vetted, she resonated with certain demographics that the cookie cutter politician couldn’t reach. She excited elements of the party otherwise inclined towards apathy. Palin drew bigger crowds than the man atop the ticket—she was a rock star. The self-described hockey mom was different. And people liked her for it.
And if Sarah Palin broke the mold of what a Republican candidate looks like, Mia Love straps a stick of dynamite to it.
Fortunately for Love, Republicans in Utah are (or should be) looking for something different, too. While you can never get a clear narrative from electoral results, one thing seems clear: It will take something more than an ultra-conservative white male to take out Jim Matheson. For a decade now, Republicans have tested that axiomatic definition of insanity by sending virtually the same candidate—changing only the names and faces—to be the Matheson biannual sacrificial lamb.
This trend has slowed what should be a barrage of national money to the race. A fresh face, a revolutionary type candidate will arouse renewed interest. And the money will follow.
If she wins the GOP nomination, the race will be a national story: white male, establishment Democrat against an upstart African American female in a newly drawn district. It could be the highest profile Congressional race in America. And this time, the political spotlight on Utah won’t be a source of embarrassment.
Utahns, ever conscientious and sensitive about their national image, would take great pride in sending an African American woman to Washington to expunge the perception that Utah is a monolithic, homogeneous culture.
Almost as bad as the national GOP would like to shed that image. Republicans have long struggled to court the African American vote. In 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential cycles, Republicans captured a paltry 9, 11, and 4 percent of the African American vote. But while it will take years to remedy that electoral disparity, electing an African American Congresswoman in the reddest of red states is a good place to start.
The female vote has been elusive, too. In those same years Democratic presidential candidates won by 9, 3 and 13 points, respectively. Obviously, the best way to curb that trend is to have more Republican women on the national stage.
And Congressional stalwarts Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and others realize Love could be a game changer for the GOP as the first-ever Republican African American Congresswoman. That's why they donated to her campaign and have conducted fundraisers on her behalf. Even Josh Romney, son of Utah's favorite adopted son (favorite grandchild?), joined team Love. These men and others are well aware of the GOP’s demographic challenges that are only exacerbated by the man currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And Love could help reverse the tide.
They see in Love not only a commitment to the Republican platform and the wherewithal to advance it, but also the potential to be an ambassador for the Grand Ole Party. She could be a prodigious fundraiser across the nation. Love could even become a Romney surrogate to combat the perception of some that Romney’s religion is a racist and sexist institution (and, yes, those charges will come), and mitigate the disparity in minority voting patterns.
She could be a rock star in her own right, a poster child for the GOP.
If Republicans are serious about restoring their big tent appeal, they need to broaden the type of people representing them. And to start that process Republicans should heed the advice from some other rock stars, “All You Need is Love.”