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For the first time, Democrat Doug Owens has had a better fundraising quarter than U.S. Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, although the incumbent maintains an overall financial advantage in what is expected to be the state's most competitive 2016 congressional contest.

Love, the freshman representative in Utah's 4th Congressional District, released her year-end report on Friday, showing that she pulled in $324,800 in the previous three months, and she spent $301,600.

Owens, an attorney who lost to Love in 2014 by a little more than 5 percentage points, released his report earlier this week. It showed that he raised $349,700 in the same period and spent $134,900.

As a consequence, the financial gap between the candidates is as small as it has ever been. Love has $781,000 in available cash to Owens' $499,500.

This is important because Owens and his team believe they could have had a better showing last time if he was able to wage an aggressive TV ad campaign early.

In that race, Love, a strong fundraiser in part due to her historic status as the first black Republican woman in Congress, outspent him by $4 million overall and Owens got almost no support from national Democrats.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted Love this time and Owens, son of former Rep. Wayne Owens, is better organized. Still, the Love team remains unimpressed.

"Money is only one factor in the whole campaign, obviously," said Dave Hansen, Love's campaign strategist. "She is still ahead and in the next quarter she'll be even further ahead. The simple fact is we are on target to raise what we need for the campaign."

Hansen said that Love is focusing first on her role as a freshman House member on the Financial Services Committee and second on her re-election effort, while "Doug has only one goal in mind and that is to raise enough money to look credible."

So far, Owens seems to be sticking to the script he followed in 2014, where he touts himself as a moderate Democrat focused on boosting the pay of middle income Utahns, while labeling Love an "extremist" out of touch with voters.

Love so far has focused solely on her work in Congress and hasn't engaged with her challenger. She told Utah reporters Friday that she's buckling down in Washington, learning the issues and working to help her constituents.

"If I do that I believe the politics will take care of itself," she said.

The 4th District represents much of the western half of Salt Lake and Utah counties and some of central Utah.

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