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Tens of thousands of provisional and mail-in ballots that are yet to be counted in the 4th Congressional District may provide a glimmer of hope for Republican Mia Love's supporters, but math makes it a steep climb for her to catch Rep. Jim Matheson.

According to county election clerks in Salt Lake, Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties, there are 72,019 mail-in and provisional ballots yet to be counted in those counties, and more could roll in.

"It's impossible to not let that thought creep into your mind that it could change the outcome in such a close race," said Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright. "The truth is nobody knows enough about the details, how many are in the 4th District, how many are vote-by-mail versus provisional, to draw any conclusions about it."

The Associated Press still has not called the election, based on the number of ballots to be counted, and likely won't call the race until Nov. 20, when the final canvass is announced.

Love conceded the race late Tuesday, and neither the Matheson nor Love campaign expects the final tally to change the outcome. Ivan DuBois, an adviser for the Love campaign, said Love is committed to making sure all the votes are counted.

The anticipation is that they will break down roughly the same as the ballots already counted, which in unofficial results give Matheson a narrow 2,818-vote edge.

The difficulty for Love is that the mail-in and provisional ballots would have to break heavily her way in order for her to claim victory.

Only Utah County has broken down how many remaining votes are in the 4th District — a total of 4,369 mail-in and provisional ballots.

Assuming the ballots left in the rest of the counties break down by congressional district in about the same proportion as the Election Day votes cast, there would be a total of 24,106 ballots in the remaining three counties that fall into the 4th District.

If the candidates perform exactly as they did on Election Night in those mail-in ballots — based on the actual number in Utah County and the estimated number elsewhere — Matheson's lead would shrink by 152 votes.

So clearly, Love must perform significantly better in the remaining ballots than she did on election night in order for the votes to make a difference. How much better? About 4.64 percent better, based on calculations, with Matheson dropping the same.

That would require Love winning a majority of the remaining ballots in Salt Lake County — which she lost on election night by 8 points — and greatly adding to her dominance in each of the other three counties, including winning better than three of every four remaining votes in Utah County.

Still, it's not impossible.

Wright notes that, especially in Salt Lake County, where he used to be chairman of the party, they put in place an aggressive vote-by-mail operation.

"I think we do have an advantage in these votes," Wright said. "Being down less than 3,000 votes, I think it's impossible for anybody looking at it to be sure it couldn't change the outcome."

The clerks are already processing the ballots, but no results will be publicly released until the statewide canvass on Nov. 20. A recount would be triggered only if the final result shows a difference of 488 votes or less.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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