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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Outgoing Rep. Jim Matheson formally endorses candidate Doug Owens, the Democrat seeking to replace him, at a press event in South Jordan, Tuesday June 3, 2014.
Matheson urges Utahns to buck Love and back Owens
Politics » The candidate faces stiff odds in a conservative district.
First Published Jun 03 2014 12:33 pm • Last Updated Jun 13 2014 10:30 pm

South Jordan • Doug Owens wants to be the next Jim Matheson, a centrist Democrat with deep Utah roots who is popular enough with Republicans to win in a conservative U.S. House district.

And Matheson likes the idea of an old family friend becoming his successor.

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The seven-term congressman formally endorsed Owens on Tuesday, encouraging voters in Utah’s 4th District to "think for yourself" and "do the right thing" by which he meant reject Republican Mia Love in favor of Owens.

"Doug’s Utah roots run deep. He’s a son of Utah, a sixth-generation Utahn, just like me. He’s thoughtful and independent, open-minded and humble, and he will be a common-sense voice committed to getting things done," Matheson said. "He is the right guy for the job, and he will be the kind of member of Congress of which we can be proud."

Owens, a lawyer, is the son of the late Rep. Wayne Owens. Matheson ran Wayne Owens’ unsuccessful 1984 campaign for Utah governor against Republican Norm Bangerter.

This is Doug Owens’ first run for office, a decision he made shortly after Matheson decided against chasing an eighth House term. Matheson may run for Senate or governor in 2016.

Matheson is offering Owens plenty of strategic advice, but Tuesday’s event was the first time they have appeared together.

"He’s been a fabulously successful politician," Owens said, "and I hope very much to emulate him."

Said Matheson: "I’ll do whatever I can to help him."

That could be quite a bit.

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Matheson has frustrated Republicans for years, pulling out victories in districts that skew conservative. He did so again in 2012, edging Love by fewer than 800 votes.

Love, a former mayor of Saratoga Springs, would be the first black Republican woman elected to the House, and, in the past three years, has developed into a GOP star. She is perceived to be the front-runner in this contest.

Owens has sought to define Love as a far-right Republican with "extreme" views. To hammer that point home, he asked Matheson to endorse him in the South Jordan park where tea party supporters showered freshman Sen. Mike Lee with more than 10 minutes of applause late last year for leading an effort that ended up shutting down the government in a failed bid to eliminate funding for Obamacare.

Love attended that rally, standing just behind Lee, R-Utah, as he spoke to his crowd of ardent backers.

Owens said Love’s appearance at the rally, particularly after Lee’s strategy fizzled, was "a nonrational position."

This is the same line of attack Owens used in May during his first joint appearance with Love at a conference sponsored by the Utah Taxpayers Association. After the exchange, Love told reporters that she showed up at that rally to support the people of South Jordan, taking a step away from Lee.

On Tuesday, the Love campaign said Matheson’s endorsement was expected and rejected the attempt to tie the former mayor to the shutdown, since she wasn’t in office at that time.

"The Owens campaign continues to try to make it as negative a campaign as they can," said Dave Hansen, Love’s campaign manager.

Hansen also took issue with the way Matheson and Owens emphasized their deep Utah roots, a contrast with Love, who moved to Utah from Connecticut after college.

"What are they trying to say," he asked, "that only Democrat royal families can serve in Congress?"


Twitter: @mattcanham

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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