SALT LAKE CITY — In the era of shocking Facebook statuses, one from Rep. Jim Matheson (D) ranked high amongst many Utah lawmakers. After 14 years in Washington, Utah’s lone democratic congressman updated his status on Tuesday with a lengthy goodbye from Congress, announcing he would not be seeking reelection in 2014.
“I’ve always said I wasn’t a lifer in Congress, and I’m looking to do something different,” said Matheson.
Now in his seventh term, Matheson wouldn’t cite a specific reason for his departure, but rejected the notion that he was worried about facing off again with Saratoga Springs mayor Mia Love, who he beat by just a few hundred votes in 2012.
“If I survived last time with the Romney wave in Utah, I have a great confidence, and my own polling shows, I’m very confident as long as I work hard I’d win in the next election,” Matheson said, “Winning seven elections in three different congressional districts in Utah has been a very rewarding experience.”
The last Matheson-Love match up was the most expensive congressional race in Utah history, totaling more than $10 million in spending, with money coming in from national parties, PACS and Super PACS.
With Matheson out, Love said on Tuesday she hopes outside parties will have less to invest in now.
“This was never about me running against Jim Matheson,” said Love. “What I’m hoping is that we don’t have all of these outside groups coming in to influence Utah voters. There was so much of that, and really it’s not a way to let people know what you’re going to do.”
Love maintains Matheson’s departure doesn’t make a difference to her, but Republican leaders see it as an early victory.
“We were confident that we were going to win in 2014, and I think we are just even more confident now,” said Utah Republican party chairman, James Evans.
While conceding Matheson’s retirement is a loss for the party, Democrats are refusing to call his exit a win for Republicans.
“To replace Jim Matheson with a Tea Party Republican like Mia Love probably won’t be good for the country,” said ” Democratic party chairman, Jim Dabakis. “This will make it more difficult for Utah Democrats, but Mia Love has painted herself as a Tea Party extremist. Most Utahns are not.”
On Wednesday morning, Democrats will begin their search for a new contender; someone they believe will still be a tough opponent for Love to beat.
“We need to be careful to find somebody that is a thoughtful problem solver and not an ideologue,” said Dabakis.
Meanwhile, Matheson intends to focus on the rest of his term in office. While he said he plans to remain in public service, the congressman would not divulge whether a run for governor or Senate was in the future.
“I’m just saying nothing is off the table right now,” said Matheson. “And I’ve got to take some time to figure out what my next step is going to be.”