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Rep. Jim Matheson says he won't run for re-election in 2014

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 17 2013 12:55 p.m. MST

Rep. Jim Matheson announced Tuesday on Facebook that he won't seek re-election in 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jim Matheson might have gift-wrapped his long-held U.S. House seat for Republican challenger Mia Love.

The seven-term Democrat surprisingly announced Tuesday on his Facebook page that he won't seek re-election in 2014. Matheson survived a nasty, expensive 4th District race with Love last year, winning by fewer than 800 votes. He is Utah's lone Democrat in Congress.

In his Facebook post, Matheson left the door open for future runs at elected office, saying, "It has been a tremendous privilege to serve the people of Utah during my time in the United States House of Representatives, but my time in the House should not be the sum total of my service."

"I think everything's on the table for me right now," he told the Deseret News.

Matheson has been touted in the past as a candidate for governor and U.S. Senate. Both Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, are up for re-election in 2016.

"I'm committed to public service. I've been looking at all the offices that are out there," Matheson said. "But I don't want to oversell you on this. There's no specific plan for 2016."

Matheson didn't give a particular reason for deciding to step aside at the end of his current term. He said he didn't consult with Democratic leaders but only with his wife, Amy, before making the decision.

"I've always assumed there were going to be different chapters to my career. Fourteen years is a substantial amount of time to serve in the House. I believe it's time now to look for the next chapter. That's really what the motivation is," he said.

Republicans have tried to close the book on Matheson since he first won the 2nd District seat in 2000. He survived a couple of close elections and GOP redistricting efforts in 2002 and 2012 that he believes deliberately favored Republicans.

Last year, he weathered what he called the perfect storm against him — a gerrymandered district and Utah's favorite adopted son, Mitt Romney, at the top of the GOP ticket. He said the cost and stress of campaigning did not factor into his decision to bow out. Matheson and Love and outside groups spent more than $11 million on the race.

Matheson, who jumped to the new 4th District last year, considers himself an independent voice who puts Utah first. He has bucked his party over the years, most recently on Obamacare. He is co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a conservative group of 25 Democrats in the House.

His announcement caught both Democrats, who are scrambling for a new candidate, and Republicans off guard.

"I thought if he was going to do it, he would have done it earlier, but it's a nice Christmas present," said Dave Hansen, Love's campaign manager.

Love said it doesn't mean she can relax.

"It doesn’t change anything," she said. "I'm not going to take anything for granted."

The lame-duck mayor of Saratoga Springs has already raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her congressional campaign this year and had $672,000 on hand as of Sept. 30.

Love bid Matheson farewell, wishing him and his family the best and saying he has served the state with passion and dedication.

"I have no ill feelings toward him," she said.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis tried to put on a brave face, saying the party looks forward to the upcoming fight in the 4th District.

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