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Tampa, Fla. • Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love blasted President Barack Obama for fracturing America by dividing people and said that it would take Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to restore the American Dream.
"President Obama's version of America is a divided one pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender, and social status. His policies have failed," she said. "Mr. President, I am here to tell you we are not buying what you are selling in 2012."
It was a direct challenge by a small-town mayor and daughter of Haitian immigrants and was greeted with raucous applause by Republican faithful in the packed convention center.
Love, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson for Congress, was introduced, along with her family, in a short video and took the stage to Queen's booming "We Will Rock You," opening with the story of her parents coming to the United States with just $10 in their pockets.
"The America I came to know was centered in personal responsibility and filled with the American dream," said Love. "It's in every child who looks at the seemingly impossible and says, 'I can do that.' That is the America I know."
She said that the American story is one of people "standing up and striving for more."
"It's been told over 200 years with small steps and giant leaps, from a woman on a bus to a man with a dream and the bravery of the greatest generation, to the entrepreneurs of today," she said. "This is the America we know because we built it."
The references to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were notable for one of the few black speakers in the Republican National Convention lineup and from a candidate who typically downplays her race.
But some, like former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, agreed with Love's sentiment that Obama has pitted people against one another.
"Yes, I do. This president has turned out to be a divider and not a uniter," said Cain, who also praised Love as a "great candidate" and said he was thrilled she was asked to speak.
"I've looked at her background and record and feel like that, as a city mayor who turned [her city's budget] around [she] is very impressive, and she's very bright and very sharp. I think it's very significant [she was asked to speak] and I'm thrilled to see it."
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis questioned if Love was more interested in the national spotlight than in Utah.
"The problem with Ms. Love is she's very comfortable back in Washington," said Dabakis. "She's been co-opted by all the lobbyists and members of Congress and we have to wonder if she's going to speak with an independent voice the way Jim Matheson has or if she's going to be a creature of Washington."
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz said the Romney campaign put Love on the stage in prime time an unusual slot for a mayor and congressional candidate because she offers a unique profile, but not because she is black.
"She's a mayor, she's a mother. She is able to talk to a whole group of Americans that others can't and she's got an inspirational, engaging story," he said. "I think it would be wrong to think she's really up there because of her skin alone. That shortchanges her accomplishments and her appeal. More than anything, I think she talks to immigrants and their families."
After the speech, Love said she was pleased with how she did and had positive feedback. She said that when she stepped out on the stage she picked out the Utah section "and was real excited. I felt comfortable."
Love said that, while she didn't mention racial division in her speech, she believes the administration has been racially divisive, as well, particularly Vice President Joe Biden, who she said that the Romney campaign would put people "back in chains."
"I think it's absolutely disrespectful to the office he holds and I think it was done for political purposes," she said. "I want a leader who treats people as individuals, I want a leader who treats people all equally as Americans, and that's not Obama. That's Mitt Romney."
Guy Harrison, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Love's time on the national stage offers her a higher profile and helps her raise money for her campaign.
"I think it gives her a chance to equalize the fundraising advantage that Matheson has as an incumbent," said Harrison, who added that the fact that Love is a minority is significant to the party. "We believe that the Republican Party's ideas are strong, but we need more diverse messengers."
Sen. Orrin Hatch said that Love "could become a real superstar," and served the Romney campaign well. "They knew she would be very good," Hatch said.