By Debbie Hummel
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Rising Republican star Mia Love, who would have become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, was defeated in Utah on Tuesday by a moderate Democrat known for crossing party lines.
Six-time Democratic incumbent Representative Jim Matheson, Utah's lone Democrat in Washington, won the race for the state's newly created 4th district by less than a percentage point, according to the final vote tally.
"These 12 years have been the privilege of a lifetime to be your voice and represent Utah. I believe in building consensus and good ideas wherever they come from," Matheson said. "This is who I am, leading from the center and bringing people together."
Matheson, currently representing the 2nd District, opted to run in the new district after lines for all of Utah's districts were redrawn to accommodate a new House seat awarded based on 2010 census numbers. It was his second time surviving redistricting in heavily Republican Utah.
The race, which drew millions of dollars in outside money, so dominated Utah's airwaves and news reports that it essentially rendered the state's three other congressional races "irrelevant," said Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.
Love garnered some early national attention in the Spring after leap-frogging two sitting Utah lawmakers to secure her party's nomination, and her prominence grew after she was tapped to speak at the Republican National Convention.
"It was a close race, but ultimately the voters of Utah have spoken. Congratulations to Jim on a hard-fought victory," said Love, the 36-year-old mayor of Saratoga Springs.
"I've gotten to know so many of you. I take away thousands of friends that I didn't have before. I love this state and this country and I'm just proud to be a Utahn and proud to be an American," she said
Matheson, 52, had entered the race with a comfortable early lead in polls. That shrank dramatically as Love's campaign took off. By fall, three of four polls found Love either even or ahead of Matheson, although some were within the margin of error.
(Reporting by Debbie Hummel; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Dan Whitcomb and Ciro Scotti)
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