- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Salt Lake City-area woman running as a Democrat to unseat Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love next year could result in Utah’s first congressional race where both the Republican and Democratic nominees are black women.

Darlene McDonald, a technical engineer and first-time candidate who lives in Millcreek, said Thursday that she realizes that running as a black woman and challenging Utah’s only African-American representative will catch some people’s attention, but she thinks it won’t be a big issue for voters.

“It’s not on my radar but I would be blind if I did not know or did not understand that other people will see it,” she said. “Does it matter? No, at the end of the day it’s about the issues.”

McDonald said she won’t shy away from talking about racial issues on the campaign trail, such as tough conversations she’s had with her sons about being African-American young men and their interactions with police.

“When it comes down to Utah issues and how voters are going to perceive me as a black woman, I’m hoping that they listen to my story and it resonates with them,” she said.

Love made history when she was elected in 2014, becoming Utah’s first black member of Congress and the first black Republican woman in Congress. The former mayor of Saratoga Springs was re-elected in November with about 54 percent of the vote.

She represents Utah’s 4th Congressional District, where about 85 percent of residents are white and two percent are black.

Dave Hansen, Love’s longtime campaign adviser, agreed with McDonald by saying that race won’t be a campaign issue or be of concern to voters.

“There are much more important issues, and that’s where each of the candidates would stand on the issues. And that’s what will determine who will win the election,” Hansen said.

Matthew Burbank, a University of Utah political scientist, said it will be interesting to see how, if at all, Love and McDonald discuss race and how voters and the media react.

While Love’s history making election received a lot of attention, the congresswoman generally downplayed race and gender throughout her first campaign.

Burbank said Democrats tend to be more attentive to particular constituencies like minorities and may talk about race more, but because race isn’t a big issue in the district, he doubts either candidate will make it an issue next year.

“It’s not as if you can mobilize a lot of African American voters to get out and support your candidate—it’s not just a big voting bloc.” Burbank said.

McDonald said she’s running because she feels like Love hasn’t been responsive to her constituents and held enough town halls. She said she’s also worried about pledges from Republicans, including Love, to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law.

One of McDonald’s seven children has autism and another son died at age 3 from a heart condition - experiences that she said hammered home the importance of having adequate health care. She said Obama’s Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect but she’d like to see it changed, not repealed.

Hansen said Love is among many who believe the health care law is unsustainable and needs changes, but that the congresswoman wants to make sure it’s replaced with something better.

He also said Love has held tele-town halls recently and will hold in-person town halls later this year.

“There’s many ways to be involved with constituents,” Hansen said. “She talks to her constituents. She meets with whenever possible, whether in Washington or out here.”

In addition to McDonald, a handful of other Democratic and Republican candidates looking to challenge Love next year have filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission. Utah’s filing deadlines are in spring 2018.

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