- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

SANDY, Utah (AP) - Republican congressional candidate Mia Love easily won her party’s nomination Saturday during the state convention, allowing her to bypass the primary election in her bid to take the seat of outgoing Rep. Jim Matheson.

In the November general election, Love will face Democrat Doug Owens, an attorney and son of late U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens. He also easily won his party’s nomination and skips the primary.

Love, the former mayor of Saratoga Springs who narrowly lost to Matheson in 2012, will be favored in the 4th Congressional District matchup. She has more campaign funds and name recognition than Owens, who is making his first foray into politics.

If Love wins, she would become the first black female Republican elected to Congress in U.S. history.

The state’s three incumbent Republican House representatives - Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Jason Chaffetz - all breezed past their opponents and straight to the November election. Stewart will face state senator Luz Robles, who was unopposed on the Democratic side. Chaffetz will be challenged by political newcomer Brian Wonnacott, also unopposed.

Bishop will face a rematch when he goes against business executive Donna McAleer. She defeated physician Peter Clemens after two sets of votes to avoid a primary. In 2012, Bishop beat McAleer by 46 percentage points.

Saturday’s results mean Utah’s June 24 primary election will not have any contested races for U.S. Congress, a rarity in the state over the last four decades, said Tim Chambless of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Thousands gathered at the two separate convention halls about 20 miles apart in what could be the last time Utah’s political parties use the current caucus and convention system to pick candidates. The system allows candidates to bypass primary elections if they win their party’s nominations with 60 percent of delegate votes.

Earlier this year, Utah’s Legislature passed, and Gov. Gary Herbert signed, legislation that allows candidates to bypass the system entirely. The new law, which is scheduled to take effect next year, allows candidates who gather enough signatures to instead compete in a primary election.

Delegates at the GOP convention Saturday approved a resolution opposing the new system and supporting any future lawsuit challenging it.

About 2,000 people attended the Democratic convention in downtown Salt Lake City where rock music served as a soundtrack as speakers urged the delegates to do everything possible to bring aboard more Democrats in traditionally Republican counties around the state. The theme for this year’s convention was, “Democrats Rise.”

Standing on stage beside an artistic logo of a fighting donkey, Democratic National Committee member Wayne Holland said: “Let’s go kick some elephant tail.”

They chose former Salt Lake City Mayor Peter Corroon as the new party chair over Brigham Young University political scientist Richard Davis. Former chair Jim Dabakis stepped down in March after three years to address medical issues.

The Republican convention was a large-scale affair held in a 97,000-square foot exhibit hall in the suburb of Sandy accented with four large television screens displaying the center stage and the large American flag serving as a backdrop.

U.S. Sen Mike Lee, a Republican and favorite of tea party conservatives, drew rousing cheers when he bellowed: “It’s good to be back in America.”

The most-watched race this year in Utah is no doubt the 4th Congressional District. Matheson announced in December he would not seek an eighth term, opening the door for the Republicans to grab control of the only U.S. House or U.S. Senate seat they don’t already have.

Love was expected to earn the nomination Saturday and did just that, getting 78 percent of delegate votes to defeat businessman Bob Fuehr. During her speech before the vote, Love got delegates fired up by attacking President Barack Obama and his health care law and speaking of distrust for Washington, D.C.

“It is time for us to unite as a party today and finish the race we started,” Love said, referencing her 2012 loss. “Will you run with me?”

Owens, meanwhile, drew loud applause from his party when he played a video featuring dramatic, action-movie like music over photos of Utah residents and slides with his campaign platform. He said he’ll bring common sense solutions that appeal to “rational Republicans” to get the cross-over votes.

“I served a mission in France,” said Owens, referring to his Mormon mission. “If I can work with the French, I can work with the Republicans.”

He won the nomination with 98 percent of the delegate votes.

Love downplayed allegations that surfaced late Friday that she misused her government email account by sending several political and campaign-related messages while serving as mayor from 2010 to 2013. “I think it’s laughable,” Love said, and called the allegations a Democratic ploy to bring down her campaign.

But Owens called it disappointing what she did and even worse the way she’s trying to deny and downplay it.

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Yvette Cruz reported from Sandy, Utah. McCombs reported from Salt Lake City.

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Follow Michelle Price at https:twitter.com/michellelprice and Brady McCombs at https://twitter.com/BradyMcCombs

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