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LEHI — On the same day House Majority Leader Eric Cantor came to Utah for Republican congressional candidate Mia Love, Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson brought some Republicans of his own into the race.
Cantor touted Love and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney before a $1,000 per-person fundraiser Thursday at Thanksgiving Point. About 40 people attended the event, including Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Cantor described Love as an "independent thinker" and an "ideas oreinted" person.
"She wants to go to Washington for the right reasons. She wants to make sure that we get things right, we turn this country around and we can give people hope and promise that their lives will to work again and we get them back to work," Cantor said.
Meantime, Matheson launced a new TV ad Thursday featuring Zions Bank president Scott Anderson, South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood and Riverton Mayor Bill Applegarth, all of whom are Republicans.
At some point you've got stand on your own two feet when you run for Congress. I go out and raise my own money. I work hard campaigning every day.
–- Jim Matheson
“These Utah Republicans represent many Utah voters who want someone to be an independent, constructive voice for making progress, not perpetuating the gridlock in Washington," the six-term congressman said. "I’ve always worked across the aisle and that’s the way solutions to complex issues get resolved."
The Love-Matheson race is an important one to the GOP, Cantor said. "This a race that reflects a new generation of leaders in our party."
Cantor said it would be "historic" for Love to be the first black Republican woman to serve in the U.S. House.
"We welcome Mia's voice," the Virginia Republican said. "She is uniquely placed to be a leader in Congress."
A distinguishing factor in the race is that Love also stands for the kinds of things that Mitt Romney stands for, Cantor said.
Romney, he said, reflects Utah's "common sense, conservative vision" and believes in a country with a "god-given right to freedom.
The fact that these guys are traveling here is a testament to how badly the national folks want her in the party caucus.
–- Quin Monson, BYU
"I believe that Mitt Romney's agenda will be premised around the notion that we're a very special country," Cantor said.
Matheson said the event, and the steady stream of GOP leaders coming to Utah, show that Love puts the Republican Party ahead of Utah. GOP leaders, he said, aren't coming for Love but to pick up a seat for the party.
"At some point you’ve got stand on your own two feet when you run for Congress. I go out and raise my own money. I work hard campaigning every day. I know Utah. This is where this race is won or lost," he said.
Cantor's stop in Utah marks one of two late-hour fundraisers for Love. House Speaker John Boehner is scheduled to be here on Halloween.
"The fact that these guys are traveling here is a testament to how badly the national folks want her in the party caucus," said Quin Monson, director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
And, he said, they see the race as winnable.
"The fact that she can win is the overarching driver. Even if they didn't like her, if she could win they'd probably still help her," Monson said. "I think they genuinely like her."
Though it's unusual for a Utah congressional seat to draw this much attention, it's not unusual for national party leaders to target 30 to 40 congressional races around the country, he said.
"This is on everyone's list, including all the outside groups, as in contention," Monson said.