Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah Mia Love speaks during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Today is the first full session of the RNC after the start was delayed due to Tropical Storm Isaac. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — In her bid to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, Mia Love is her party’s face of diversity this campaign year. She’s reluctant to embrace the role, saying she doesn’t let race or gender define her politics.

Amid the country’s shifting demographics, Republicans have focused more on reaching out to Hispanics than black voters, who have supported President Barack Obama in overwhelming numbers.

“I was elected mayor not because of my race or gender, not because I wear high heels, but because of the policies I put in place,” Love, 36, said in a recent interview. Polling shows Love with a slight lead over a six-term Democratic incumbent in Utah.

In a party that has struggled for decades to attract black voters, the daughter of Haitian immigrants included subtle nods to civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks in her speech to the Republican National Convention in August.

Love’s parents immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1970s. She says her father — who has worked as a painter, janitor and school bus driver — taught her never to ask for a handout. Her parents became U.S. citizens in 1984.

A married mother of three, a Mormon and a favorite of the small-government tea party movement, Love is the only woman among 11 black Republican House candidates in the Nov. 6 election.

Republicans have focused more on her conservative values and agenda than her race.

“We need a party that is diverse based on our issues and not based on simply trying to find greater variety in the complexion,” said Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina, one of the two black Republicans now in the House.

Black Republicans have long been scarce in Congress. Of 26 black Republican House members since 1870, the vast majority served during the post-Civil War Reconstruction days. Scott and West, both tea party favorites, were swept into office as part of the Republican wave in 2010.

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Associated Press writer Shannon Dininny contributed to this report. Miga reported from Washington.

 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.