Mia Love, a Haitian-American who converted to Mormonism, wins in Utah.
By Raf Sanchez, Washington
A black woman has been elected to Congress as a member of the Republican Party for the first time.
Mia Love, a 38-year-old former small town mayor, electrified conservatives in Utah with her promise to take on “the Godzilla that we call the federal government” and won in the state’s fourth congressional district.
She will join Tim Scott, a black senator from South Carolina, as one of just three African-American Republicans in Congress. The Democrats count 43 members in their current Congressional ranks.
Mrs Love’s path to Utah – and now to Washington – is an unlikely one. Mrs Love was born in New York to Catholic parents who had immigrated from Haiti just two years earlier. The family worked hard, saved money and eventually moved to more prosperous settings in Connecticut.
After university, Mrs Love converted to Mormonism and began working as a flight attendant before moving to Utah. There she met Jason Love, a white Mormon man. Their first date was at a gun range and three months later they were married. The couple have two daughters and a son.
She spent six years on the city council of Saratoga Springs, a small but growing city, before being elected its mayor in 2009. She ran for Congress in 2012 but narrowly lost out to an incumbent Democrat.
Hers is the kind of story Republicans love to tell: how faith, family and hard work led to success, without ever turning to the state for help along the way.
During speeches, Mrs Love likes to quote her father, who told her: “Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society. You will give back.”
Her message of self-reliance resonates powerfully with a Republican Party committed to limited government. But her election is also a political windfall for a party struggling to reach beyond its white voter base.
“An African-American congresswoman is solid gold for the Republicans,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Centre for Politics. “They have enduring, deep problems with both minorities and women across the country, so I guarantee you they will feature Mia Love prominently.”
Rand Paul, the libertarian Republican senator who has taken it on himself to reach out to minority communities, point it even more sharply, saying the Party needed to acknowledge its brand “sucks”.
Standing amid a crush of journalists after a rally featuring Mitt Romney and other senior Republicans in October, Mrs Love had little interest in reflecting on race.
“The problems that we have in this nation aren’t race issues, they’re not gender issues, they’re American issues,” she told The Telegraph.
The line is similar to the one sometimes adopted by Mr Obama, who insists “I’m not the president of black America” and that his policies are intended to benefit the entire country rather than any one group.
But as the summer violence in Ferguson starkly illustrated, black America often faces a unique set of problems.
Black Americans are gunned down by police at a far higher rate than whites. One in three black men born today can expect to face prison in his lifetime. The unemployment rate among African-Americans is twice that of whites.
Jamal Simmons, a Democrat commentator who admires Mrs Love, said crises like Ferguson will test whether she is able to bridge the gap between Republicans and the African-American community.
“There are moments when community interests need to stand up to the interests of your political allies,” Mr Simmons said. “The question is: will she be willing to stand up and say something?”
Mrs Love’s husband, a softly-spoken man who looks on proudly as his wife shakes hands with voters, says her political values are strongly guided by her Mormon faith.
“We don’t talk a lot about race in our home, we talk about people,” Mr Love says. He describes the Mormon principle of “free agency”, the idea that people are free to make their own moral choices.
“Mia will tell people that she doesn’t want to buy a cellphone for you. She wants to empower you to buy your own cellphone through your own hard work, through education, and through the support of your family.”
Amid the sea of white Republicans who turned out to cheer for Mrs Love at the October rally was Ben Reaves, an African-American father of five.