TAMPA, Fla. — Mia Love gave a stemwinder of a speech to kick off the prime time hour on day one of the Republican National Convention, a speech that brought the audience to its feet in cheers.
Love, the congressional candidate for Utah’s 4th District, is seen as a potential rising star in the Republican Party. An articulate speaker, she is an effective mouthpiece for the party, but she is also a good face as the party seeks to expand its base: if elected, she would be the first black, Republican woman ever elected to congress.
The crowd was already roaring with applause when Love took the stage, the volume rivaling the strains of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” that played in the background.
Many in the crowd were likely unfamiliar with Love just minutes earlier. Currently the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, this is Love’s first foray onto a national stage. Delegates and guests were introduced to her at the start of the program by a video that featured Love talking about campaigning.
“The first day of college my father came with me to orientation, and I remember he looked at me. He looked at me very seriously and he said, ‘Mia, your mother and I have done everything to get you to where you are right now. We have never taken a hand out. We have worked hard for everything we have through personal responsibility. You will not be a burden to society. You will give back,'” Love says, at the start of the video.
It’s a story that has become her calling card, at once providing a testimony to her conservative values and proving a first hand understanding of and belief in the American Dream.
When Love began speaking, the crowd, which had heretofore been milling around and chatting, tuned in.
“Let me tell you about the America I know,” she began. “My parents immigrated to the U.S. with ten dollars in their pocket, believing that the America they had heard about really did exist. When times got tough they didn’t look to Washington, they looked within,” she said.
“So the America I came to know was centered in personal responsibility and filled with the American dream,” she said.
As Love went on to attack President Barack Obama, the crowd continually interrupted her, cheering wildly.
“President Obama’s version of America is a divided one — pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender, and social status,” she said. “His policies have failed! We are not better off than we were 4 years ago, and no rhetoric, bumper sticker, or campaign ad can change that.”
“Mr. President I am here to tell you we are not buying what you are selling in 2012,” she said.
“This is our story,” she said later. “This is the America we know because we built it.”
At that, Love was temporarily silenced by the crowd, which went wild, breaking out into a spontaneous cheer of “we built it,” which competed with chants of “U-S-A.”
Love left the stage to a standing ovation, applause that rivaled that of the later, better-known primetime speakers.
It’s not the first time Love has rallied a crowd. At a speech at the Utah Nominating Convention in April, Love — who was in a three-way primary — spoke before the vote. She won in the first round of balloting with 70 percent of the vote.
It’s a testimony to her charisma and prowess as a speaker that the largely unknown Utahn earned a spot at the podium. The situation is not unlike that of a largely unknown Illinois state senator back in 2004, who gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention where Sen. John Kerry was nominated. The speech was the start of the career of then state senator Barack Obama, who four years later was elected president of the United States.
Like Obama’s speech, Love’s contained “no revolutionary ideas”; rather, concepts that “could have been plucked from any standard stump speech,” as The Washington Post described it in a 2008 piece. But also like Obama, Love had a compelling personal story around which to frame it.
“That speech was his launch,” Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin told The Washington Post in 2008. “It changed everything for him.”
Love’s speech was not Obama’s 2004 speech that left the audience “transfixed,” as The Washington Post described it, with tears in their eyes.
But it was a strong speech, and it captivated the audience, who minutes before were milling the aisles, having conversations amongst themselves, as reporters threaded through the crowd with cameras, filming television spots. When Love spoke, they listened, and they cheered. Loudly.
As soon as Love left the stage, the spell broke. The next two speakers — actress Janine Turner and businesswoman Sher Valenzuela, a candidate for Delaware lieutenant governor — faced a restless crowd that was not yet ready to sit still and listen.
“I loved it,” said one delegate, who said she didn’t know who Love was when she took the stage.
Republicans aren’t the only ones who are paying attention to the Saratoga Springs mayor. Democratic Super PAC House Majority PAC preempted Love’s speech Tuesday with $200,000 ad buy for a spot attacking her record on taxes.
Yet it remains to be seen whether Love can capitalize on her newfound stardom. She is running against incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, a blue-dog Democrat who has remained remarkably popular in the red state. No polls have been conducted since June, when she was running behind.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported last month that her campaign was “all in tangles,” and that national Republicans had stepped in to help guide the campaign, and protect the asset that her candidacy could be, helping to oust Matheson and give a fresh face for the party.
A person familiar with the campaign said she had a reputation for being “flakey,” and noted that she had missed several appointments, including one with Orrin Hatch.
But with the attention and fundraising bump that will come from the convention, Love is likely to move full steam ahead toward the election.