SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jim Matheson, the only Democratic member of Utah's congressional delegation, said Thursday he has "a lot of concern" about the allegations against embattled Attorney General John Swallow, calling them "a huge distraction."
"I, like most Utahns, have a lot of concern about what we're hearing about, certain actions, and questions that they're ethical enough. And we've also heard concerns about morale within that office," Matheson said.
Utahns "want that office to operate effectively and productively and hope this isn't a distraction," he said. "At a minimum, this is a huge distraction from what the top law enforcement office of our state is supposed to be doing."
Matheson's comments come after his GOP challenger in the new 4th District, Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, said the allegations against Swallow, a fellow Republican, were "disappointing" and that he shouldn't have been looking out for his personal interests.
Swallow, who ran against Matheson in 2002 and 2004, faces federal, state and local investigations into a number of allegations, including that he helped broker a deal for a Utah businessman seeking to stop a federal investigation of his company.
Matheson said he didn't know if Swallow's troubles would become too much of a distraction for him to stay in office.
"This is an issue where there are a lot more facts out there of which I'm unaware. A lot of us are," the congressman said. "I hope when those facts can be brought to light, we'll all draw our conclusions based on that."
Swallow's spokesman, Paul Murphy, has said the attorney general plans to stay put. Matheson said he wasn't sure how to respond when asked if he had confidence Swallow would make the right decision about whether to remain in office.
"I haven't talked to him about this at all or talked to him for years, so I don't know how to answer that question," Matheson said.
Even though Matheson won't be up for re-election again until 2014, Love has announced she's running against him for a second time after narrowly losing last year.
But Matheson said it's too soon to start talking about the next election.
"I think most people are sort of tired of the last election," the congressman said, describing his focus as "working hard and doing my job. I think the politics will take care of itself."
Although Matheson toyed with running for governor or the U.S. Senate last year, he chose instead to seek the new fourth seat in Congress allocated to Utah as a result of the 2010 Census.
Thursday, he said "it's safe to assume" at this point he'll run again for the 4th District next year. After beating Love by less than 800 votes in 2012, Matheson said he expects to do better in their next matchup.
"I think it's going to be easier next time. Mitt Romney was a powerful force on the ballot. His coattails were huge, and I don't have to go against that this time," he said of the former GOP presidential candidate seen as a favorite son in Utah.
Plus, Matheson said, his new 4th District constituents appear to like what they've seen from him so far.
"I have all kinds of confidence that the better my constituents get to know me, the better I'll do the next election," he said.
Love, who would have been the first black woman in Congress had she won the 2012 race, attracted national attention. That included fundraising visits from top Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
Matheson said he didn't know if Love would be as high profile a candidate this time, but it wouldn't matter.
"I think Utahns recognize that for what it is, which is a national party agenda," he said, calling himself the most independent member of Congress. "I think voters are ready for the type of representation I give them."
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