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West Valley City • Arizona Sen. John McCain said Thursday that he believes Mia Love can be an effective member of Congress, despite polarization in Washington, because of her profile and prominence in political circles.

"People who come to Washington, if they have some gravitas associated with them, like she does — she will be an instant star — and that will give her the ability to work to get things done," McCain said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. "She also was proven as a mayor, admittedly of a small town, but as a mayor and she has been able to work with a lot of other people as well."

Love is squaring off against Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in the state's new 4th Congressional District.

McCain spoke Thursday evening to a crowd of about 250 at a rally for the Love campaign, part of a swing through Western states by the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Earlier he helped Love's campaign raise money at an event hosted by C.R. England Trucking.

"President Romney, if I may be so bold, is going to need a strong right arm," McCain said, explaining that Romney will need a majority of Republicans in the Senate. "He's also going to need some foot soldiers in the movement," and Love could be one of those people. During his address he criticized President Barack Obama, whose campaign he said has resorted to attack ads to try to hide their own failure to revive the economy.

"Barack Obama can run, but he can't hide from his record of abysmal failure as far as this economy is concerned and as far as national security is concerned," McCain said. "Sooner or later, the American people will say to him: 'What's your plan?' "

During the town hall meeting, Jessica Kerr, the mother of a child with autism, expressed her concerns about cutting too much from government programs that are important to her child and others with disabilities.

"I know you say we've got to cut, cut, cut," Kerr said. "I'm concerned with the cuts to the disabled and Medicare and Medicaid."

Love said that the programs need to be improved and reformed, but denied any plan to slash services.

"Anyone who has said to you or anyone else that I'm going to pull the rug out from under you … is absolutely lying to you," she said.

Love has said she supports the budget proposal of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, which would cut $700 billion from Medicare and shift some costs to the insured. She has also supported capping Medicaid spending and block-granting it to the states.

Kerr said that, after hearing Love speak, she felt better about her position, but she and her husband, Nathan, remain concerned about the future of federal funding.

"There's a general movement in the country right now, and I understand it, that we should cut everything. But what I'm concerned about is this sort of libertarian view that the weak should just fall off the edge of the Earth," said Nathan Kerr. "It's a little bit of a dangerous proposal to say government should have no role and we should cut everything."

Love said voters have a choice in November between her and Matheson.

"You can have a representative who chooses to bury his head in the sand and pretend that nothing is wrong," said Love, criticizing Matheson's votes for the Obama stimulus, Cash For Clunkers, "Obamacare" and his support for Obama in November.

"Or you get option two. You've got a little old mayor who works where the rubber meets the road, who understands how to balance a budget, who understands you can't live beyond your means."

Matheson fired back that the Love campaign is distorting his record.

"I'm not surprised that the misstatements and falsehoods have begun," Matheson said in a statement, adding that he had voted for a balanced budget amendment and capping federal spending.

Matheson voted recently to repeal the Affordable Care Act but previously he voted against the repeal. He explained that there were beneficial provisions, like the prohibition on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, that should stay in place.

"The other side is all about party and partisan politics," Matheson said. "I am about listening to Utahns, looking for good ideas from all sides and then rolling up my sleeves to get something done. That's the true choice in this race."

McCain said he met with Love in his Washington office and got to know her background and said she has an inspiring story and "strong conservative principles."

"And I'm not oblivious to the fact that it would be historic, in that the first [Republican] African American female in Congress comes from the state of Utah," he said. "I think, speaking as a Republican, it certainly can be beneficial to our party. I think, with her story and background, it can inspire others. I think that the fact that she has this story and a very articulate capability, obviously will be very helpful to the party and more importantly the nation."

His visit comes on the heels of Wednesday's fundraiser featuring House Speaker John Boehner and an upcoming rally and fundraiser with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled for Sept. 7.

The flood of national politicos prompted Utah Democrats to question who is calling the shots for Love.

"It's widely known that she's not really successful in campaigning here in Utah. … Her whole operation is faltering and failing her locally, so D.C. is trying to save it," said Matt Lyons, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. "Matheson, who has been on the ground, he works communicating, he works neighborhoods, he gets to know people, he gets to know his constituents and their concerns and that's why he wins year after year."