LEHI, Utah — Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Wednesday night that he’s still hitting the campaign trail in order to get candidates like Utah Republican Mia Love elected.
Romney headlined a rally for Love, who is making her second bid for Utah’s 4th Congressional District and in November could become the first black female Republican elected to serve in Congress.
About 600 people turned out for the rally, held in a barn-like event hall at the Thanksgiving Point family center in Lehi, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Romney and Love appeared for about eight minutes, taking the stage after a parade of local officials and getting the crowd to boo at mentions of President Barack Obama’s health care law and Romney’s 2012 loss.
“I’m convinced she’s not just going to be a congresswoman,” Romney said of Love. “She’s going to be a great congresswoman”
The event followed a closed-door fundraiser also hosted by Romney.
Romney, a Mormon and graduate of Brigham Young University, is hugely popular in Utah, where an estimated two-thirds of the residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The former presidential candidate is also credited with turning around Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics after a bribery scandal.
Romney invited Love to speak at his annual retreat this summer, a private conference at a luxury resort in Park City. Her rally Wednesday night gave her a public boost from the former Massachusetts governor.
The rally also allows Love to signal that she is a mainstream Republican like Romney while her Democratic opponent tries to portray her as someone with extreme views, University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said. “To the extent that she can identify herself with somebody like Mitt Romney, she can tend to counter that perception,” Burbank said.
Love doesn’t necessarily need the Romney appearance because she has a clear advantage in the GOP-leaning district and it’s still her race to lose, Burbank said.
“But, of course, until you get elected, you can’t be absolutely sure of that,” he said. “She has to conduct the campaign as if she could still lose because you certainly don’t want to take a risk at this point in the campaign.”
Love is the former mayor of Saratoga Springs, a city of 23,000 people that’s 35 miles south of Salt Lake City.
She gained national attention in 2012 when she tried to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson in Utah’s 4th Congressional District, earning a plum speaking spot at the Republican National Convention.
Love lost to Matheson by about 800 votes in what turned out to be one of the most expensive races in Utah history.
Months later, Love announced she was running again.
Matheson opted not to seek another term this year, leaving Love with a well-funded head start over Democratic challenger Doug Owens.
During the most recent fundraising quarter, she collected about $748,000 and finished June with $873,000.
Owens, a Salt Lake City attorney and son of late U.S. Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens of Utah, raised about $162,000 and finished the quarter with about $210,000.
Owens has never run for public office, and his campaign is working to boost his name recognition with billboards and television ads.
During a debate in May, Owens hammered Love for her support of U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, the Utah Republican who helped lead a fight last fall that precipitated a 16-day partial government shutdown over the new health care law.
On Tuesday, he picked up the endorsement of two Utah unions representing public school teachers while criticizing Love’s comments in a 2012 interview where she said the U.S. Department of Education should be eliminated.
Love wouldn’t answer questions about the issue on Wednesday. “I’m not going to go into anything negative. This is a positive night,” she said.
When asked by reporters Wednesday about the potential history she could make in November, Love said she considers herself a mother, wife, Utah resident and American.
“I represent Utah, and whatever anybody else says about, that’s what I’m focused on,” Love said.
Owens and Love will appear side-by-side during a televised debate Tuesday night.