SALT LAKE CITY — The frontrunners for Utah's 2nd Congressional District have been campaigning hard on the issues of the day — the economy, immigration, public lands, the appropriate role of government in the nation's economic recession and tax policy.
But it is a woman — not a particular issue — who has become the most prolific wedge between incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Republican challenger Morgan Philpot, a former Utah state lawmaker.
Philpot says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to go because she supports a liberal agenda that most Americans don't support. Moreover, the residents of the 2nd District deserve a leader who will not support Pelosi as speaker.
"The problem with our congressman is, he's been voting for her as speaker of the House," Philpot said. "They (the speaker) set the general agenda coming out of the House for the party in charge, and Utahns are not favorable to the agenda she's been setting. Yet, our congressman has been voting for her as speaker of the House and supporting many of the issues she's behind."
Matheson, who is seeking a sixth term in the House of Representatives, says his political independence is well-known among his congressional colleagues.
"Twisting my arm for political considerations just doesn't work. Both Democrats and Republicans in Washington are well-aware of that. I'm real proud of that because that's what people want in an elected official," Matheson said.
Matheson and Philpot lead a field of five candidates competing for the 2nd District seat. A recent Deseret News/KSL-TV poll showed 57 percent of voters in the district would re-elect Matheson, while 31 percent supported Philpot. Constitutional candidate Randall Hinton, polled at 1 percent, as did unaffiliated candidate Dave Glissmeyer. Less than 1 percent of the voters polled said they would vote for Wayne Hill, also running as an unaffiliated candidate. The poll had a plus or minus 6.6 margin of error.
Matheson, the lone Democrat in Utah's delegation since he first ran in 2000, is the son of the late Utah Gov. Scott Matheson and the younger brother of Scott Matheson, Jr., who has been nominated as federal appeals court judge by President Barack Obama but he has not yet been confirmed by the Senate. Despite efforts by the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature to weaken Matheson's stranglehold on the 2nd District through redistricting, he continues to win with strong support from unaffiliated voters and drawing about a third of the GOP vote.
Matheson and Philpot are similar in some respects. Matheson, 50, and Philpot, 39, are married fathers to young children. According to candidate questionnaires the candidates answered for KSL-TV, neither supports the health care reform legislation passed by Congress (Matheson voted against it three times). Neither supports amnesty to solve the nation's immigration problem. Both strongly oppose the resumption of nuclear weapons testing.
But they sharply differ on the issue of federal funding for embryonic and adult stem cell research. Philpot is adamantly opposed to embryonic stem cell research. Matheson, meanwhile, has consistently supported federal funding for stem cell research, subject to strict ethical guidelines. "The research should be conducted in an open and transparent environment, with government oversight and accountability," Matheson responded to the questionnaire.
The two also have different views on the use and access to the state's federal lands.
Philpot first sought elected office in 2000. He announced his intention to run for Congress to unseat Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, but later withdrew, filing instead to run for the state Legislature. He ran as a Republican largely over his distaste with the Clinton administration's handling of the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Philpot, then a Hinckley Institute intern to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, became aware that the Clinton White House was keeping secrets from Utahns.
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