SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jim Matheson's election record against anyone the Republicans have thrown at him is 6-0.
So it comes as no surprise that the current crop of GOP challengers in Utah's new 4th Congressional District are often asked how they plan to unseat the moderate Democrat. The five candidates took a swing at that question Wednesday during a Hinckley Institute of Politics forum at the University of Utah.
Generally speaking, they said they can't let Matheson label his Republican opponent as an extremist or allow him to frame the debate. Matheson currently represents the 2nd District but jumped to 4th District after state lawmakers redrew congressional boundaries last fall.
"Do we hand him that formula again? Or do we put him up against a candidate he's never seen before?" said Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, perhaps the only black conservative LDS woman running for Congress in the country.
"He's never been up against a candidate like me," she said. "How is he going to be able to define me?"
Calling Matheson "formidable," former Orem state legislator Stephen Sandstrom said the GOP candidate must be able to go toe-to-toe with the six-term Democrat in public forums.
"If you look at past debates, he's absolutely embarrassed Republican candidates," he said. "He picks them apart and makes them look quite ridiculous."
Sandstrom said the GOP opponent can't be a rookie or a moderate, but must have a deep understanding of the issues. Sandstrom said he is that candidate.
"You know that an extremist is anyone running against Jim Matheson," said Carl Wimmer, a former state lawmaker from Herriman. "He's going to label all of us as extremists not matter how moderate we think we are."
Past candidates, particularly Morgan Philpot who narrowly lost to Matheson two years ago, didn't have the money for TV ads, he said. Wimmer said he has raised nearly $300,000 and expects to rake in $1 million through his grassroots organization.
Lawyer Jay Cobb said the key to beating Matheson is "removing the distractions." Matheson, he said, will win when it comes to extreme versus reasonable and experience versus inexperience.
"Lead him to his record," Cobb said. "He can't frame it the other way."
Retired economist Kenneth Gray said he has developed software to identify swing voters from past elections and intends to use it to target independents.