Congressman Jim Matheson’s activities in the days leading up to his announcement Tuesday that he would not seek reelection next year do not appear to be the behavior of someone who is getting out of politics.
Four days before he declared his pending retirement from Congress, Matheson held a breakfast fund raiser at Johnny’s Half Shell in Washington, D.C. Suggested contributions from guests attending the Friday the 13th breakfast were $5,000 to be a PAC host, $2,500 to be a sponsor, and $1,500 to be a simple guest.
It was the third fundraising breakfast Matheson invited his generous friends to in the past several weeks, hardly a pattern for someone who is retiring from politics.
According to Opensecrets.com, Matheson’s last campaign finance report shows that in the last fund-raising cycle he raised nearly $826,000 and spent nearly $166,000, leaving him with $687,645 cash on hand.
So the question isn’t if the Democratic congressman is going to run for a higher office in 2016. The question is which one, governor or senator.
Most political observers I have talked to are betting on senator. He would be challenging first-term Sen. Mike Lee, whose favorability rating plummeted after he played a major role in shutting down the government earlier this year.
He already was unpopular enough, even in his own party, that Republicans talked openly about a primary challenge when the junior senator faces his first re-election campaign. Names that surfaced included former State Republican Chairman Thomas Wright, former State Sen. Dan Liljenqust and Josh Romney, son of 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
I have been told of a private meeting Democratic strategists had shortly after the 2012 election in which Matheson barely nipped Republican challenger Mia Love — in a new district featuring northwest Utah County and southwest Salt Lake County that appeared to be a custom fit for the Saratoga Springs mayor.
The Democrats had invited some pollsters who had done a thorough analysis of the election and pointed out that while the demographics of the district were heavily slanted in favor of Republicans, thousands of GOP voters — who stayed loyal in the races for president, governor, senator and even the legislative races in that district — switched over to Matheson in the congressional race.
The pollsters also reportedly told the Democratic strategists that in their surveys statewide Matheson would beat Lee by a small margin in a head-to-head race.
Matheson, they said, also has benefitted, ironically, from the attempts by the Republican-dominated Legislature to get him out of office through gerrymandering.
After he was elected to his first term in 2000, the Legislature redrew his district in 2001 to give him a heavy dose of right-wing rural Utah.
When he kept winning elections after that, the Legislature tried again in 2011, redrawing his district to reflect even more conservative voting in Davis County and other rural counties that would swallow up the smaller liberal voting blocs in Salt Lake City.
That prompted him to run instead in the newly drawn district that also was awash in Republicans, especially in Utah County.
But Matheson has always been good at constituent services and has become more popular in the areas he represents each year. Because of redistricting, he has represented at one time or another more than half the state. So the Republicans, in their infinite wisdom, may have done the unthinkable: creating a viable statewide Democratic candidate.
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