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SALT LAKE CITY — Results from Saturday's state party conventions set up a potential marquee matchup in November for the new 4th Congressional District between Jim Matheson, the longtime Democratic incumbent, and Republican newcomer Mia Love.
Matheson is the ultimate Democratic political survivor, winning six times in a staunchly conservative Utah. But, Love wowed the crowd at the GOP convention, and seems poised to draw even more attention.
Fresh off a decisive convention victory over her GOP rivals on Saturday, Love turned her sights on her Democratic opponent.
"Well, Jim Matheson should be pretty scared right now," Love said. "We're going to send him home. It's time."
Matheson, who had no convention challenge, said he's not worried, especially with many Utahns liking his history of working across the aisle.
"I think that's why I'm confident about the 2012 election," Matheson said. "I think the mood of the electorate is looking for constructive people like me."
Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, is the daughter of Haitian immigrants. If she wins, she'll be the only black REpublican woman in Congress — a distinction she downplays.
Well, Jim Matheson should be pretty scared right now. We're going to send him home. It's time.
"Saratoga Springs doesn't have the best bond rating because I'm black and female; that didn't happen," Love said. "It's because of the policies we put in place."
Matheson said Love's positions on issues like healthcare and education mirror those of the staunch conservatives she defeated.
"I think my opponent's just taking a lot of extreme positions — they're way out there and gonna walk the party line all the time," Matheson said.
Love insists her positions carry broad appeal, however.
In the meantime, the National Republican Congressional Committee is signaling Love's candidacy is on its radar screen. One longtime political observer predicts a tough race though.
"She's going to get a lot of national attention, a lot of national money," said Bob Seltzer, an administrator at Westminster College. "And it's in a new district that's not favorable to Democrats."
Expect national Republicans to pour plenty of money into this race. Democrats will likely need to match that effort to keep Jim Matheson in Congress.