Mia Love became the darling of the Republican Party yesterday, elected as its first black female member of congress — and she is a Mormon.
She has also rapidly drawn comparisons with the US President, not least since she wowed her party’s 2012 national convention with a tale of rags-to-political-riches, much like the young senator Barack Obama did in 2004.
“Many of the naysayers out there said that Utah would never elect a black Republican LDS woman to congress,” Ms Love said at her victory rally, referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons.
“Not only did we do it, we were the first to do it,” added the 38-year-old, who was previously mayor of Saratoga Springs, a city 65km south of Salt Lake City.
Born Ludmya Bourdeau in Brooklyn to Haitian-American parents, Ms Love catapulted herself into Washington’s political spotlight by winning the Mormon-dominated western US state’s Fourth Congressional District.
Ms Love’s parents came from Haiti in the 1970s, and she has recalled how her father at times took second jobs cleaning toilets to pay for school for their three children.
She graduated from the University of Hartford with a degree in Fine Arts. A Catholic by upbringing, she found the Mormon faith before meeting her white Mormon husband, Jason Love.
Ms Love is a minority in her state and church: barely 1 per cent of Utahans are black or African American and only an estimated 3 per cent are Mormons. Mormons make up about 60 per cent of Utah’s population.
Ms Love is fond of recalling what her father told her on her day of college orientation: “Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society. You will give back,” she notes on her own website.
Ms Love made headlines when she took the stage at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida — which nominated Mitt Romney, also a Mormon, as its presidential nominee.
“My parents immigrated to the US with $US10 in their pocket, believing that the America they had heard about really did exist,” she told the crowd.
“When times got tough, they didn’t look to Washington, they looked within.”
Damon Cann, politics professor at Utah State University, said Ms Love was bound for greater things in Washington.
“Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republicans have been more serious about trying to showcase the diversity within the Republican Party,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune.
“And Mia Love is potentially the poster child for diversity in the party.”
Despite proclaiming her first black Republican congresswoman credentials in her victory speech yesterday, Ms Love was keen to downplay suggestions her race or gender won the election.
“Understand that Utahans have made a statement that they’re not interested in dividing Americans based on race or gender, that they want to make sure that they are electing people who are honest and who have integrity,” she told CNN.
“That’s really what made history here. Race, gender had nothing to do with it.”