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Is a run for governor or Senate in Matheson’s future?

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But if he does run for governor, Matheson could accept unlimited donations, instead of facing the tighter rules in the federal system, in which the biggest check he could accept is $2,500 from an individual and $5,000 from a political action committee.

Herbert regularly collects checks of $25,000 or more. And his annual Governor’s Gala has brought in as much as $1 million. "Gary raises money like nobody’s business," Gonzales said. "The ability to do that is really the big question in the governor’s race."

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Matheson allies say he has a strong track record of raising money from conservative sources, and Utah’s business community would have to consider a gift to his campaign if it appears that he may win.

Why run for governor? » He could claim the job his father held for two terms and redeem his brother Scott’s loss to Jon Huntsman in 2004, which has to hold at least some attraction. He could also stay with his wife and kids in Salt Lake City, instead of bouncing between D.C. and Utah each week.

A run for governor would also eliminate Republicans’ top criticism — that a vote for Matheson is a vote for Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. The GOP would likely replace Pelosi’s name with Harry Reid if Matheson ran for Senate. There would be no boogeyman in a gubernatorial race.

He could also avoid the well-organized opposition at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which would pump money into the race to try to keep the seat in GOP hands whether Lee is the candidate or not.

The governor’s job comes with nice perks: A press corps interested in everything you do, 24/7 armed guards, a state vehicle and driver and a historical house on South Temple.

Why run for Senate? » Matheson knows Washington and has enjoyed working as a legislator, seeking policy solutions and working within Congress to try to get them passed. He has no real executive experience, and being governor is essentially being a manager. From the Senate, where he would be one of just 100, he would have more influence on the policies that matter to him, energy and health care, than he can as one of 435 House members. It also gives him an easier perch to have a national impact.

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Democrats are in the majority in the Senate, and they set the agenda, a much more pleasant climate for Matheson should that remain the case in 2016.

Senators are often more high-profile, grab more headlines and get swankier offices than House members. And senators don’t have to contend with a GOP-dominated Legislature like the Utah governor.

Could he win? » The last Democrat who won a statewide race in Utah thinks so. Jan Graham became Utah’s attorney general in 1992, winning at a time when Bill Clinton came in third in the state’s presidential vote. She was re-elected in 1996.

Graham says there is more partisan hostility now than when she was on the scene. and some Utah Democrats are frustrated at Matheson’s often-conservative stances.

"But if anyone can do it, Jim can," she said.

Matheson has displayed an uncanny ability to garner votes from Utahns of all political stripes. In each of his races, he’s been able to pull in Republican support to put him over the top. In 2012, for example, he grabbed 37 percent of voters who described themselves as not-so-strong Republicans and 11 percent of Republican die-hards, according to the Utah Colleges Exit Poll.

Independents gravitated to him 2-1 over Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who is making another run in Utah’s 4th Congressional District.

"He’s figured out the, I guess you would call it, the secret sauce of connecting with moderate Republicans," said BYU’s Monson. "A lot of that is no secret. He’s genuinely a moderate."

Given that he’s won two of the four congressional districts in Utah, Matheson also has a connection to a good portion of the state’s population and represented, geographically, three-quarters of the state, everywhere but the northern counties covered by Rep. Rob Bishop. Voters are used to seeing Matheson on the ballot.

But he could be haunted from his past races where outside groups ran negative ad after negative ad trying to link him to liberals and support for Democratic causes unpopular in the state. A "D" behind any statewide candidate’s name in Utah means they start with a disadvantage.

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