Jim Matheson

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is keeping his streak alive. He's never attended a Democratic National Convention and will not attend this year, either — even though he is a "superdelegate" as a congressman.

So what is more important than casting a vote for Barack Obama to become the first black man nominated by a major party for president, while a football stadium full of cheering Democrats looks on in Denver next month?

"He's got his campaign here that's he's very focused on. Also, his son, William, is going to start the fourth grade that week. For a parent, it's nice to meet the teacher and all of that," said Alyson Heyrend, Matheson's press secretary. Matheson was traveling Friday and unavailable for comment himself.

Skipping the convention — he did not attend either the 2000 or 2004 National Democratic Conventions — has brought criticism in the past that Matheson, a moderate, is trying to distance himself from the more liberal national party.

Heyrend said, however, "He's already endorsed Sen. Obama for president. At this point, the convention is more of a coronation. The outcome is a foregone conclusion. Back in the spring when it was close, he was planning to go."

She added, "He's got a lot of work to do for his own campaign. He has a lot of people to meet during the August recess, to discuss important issues such as energy and housing. Those are things that can best be done on the ground here. There is no hidden agenda."

Wayne Holland, state Democratic Party chairman and a superdelegate himself, said he is not surprised that Matheson isn't going, and is not disappointed. From a practical point of view, said Holland, Matheson's unused credential can now be given to a spouse or friend of another Utah delegate to get another Democrat into the convention hall.

Matheson "promised that if his (superdelegate) vote was needed, he would be there. It is not needed. This is a coronation convention" where the nominee has already been picked, said Holland. "Jim is not ashamed or trying to distance himself from the Democratic Party. He was at our state and county conventions. At the state convention he got the biggest applause of the day. He's in a GOP district and he needs to work campaigning — and no one outworks Jim Matheson. He works his tail off."

This year, as in the past, Matheson skipping the convention means his vote will not be cast. Regular delegates, if absent, can have alternates cast their vote. But superdelegates cannot have alternates.

Matheson's GOP opponent, former homebuilder Bill Dew, sees nothing wrong with Matheson's absence. "I hear he wants to take his son to his first day of school, and I'm always in favor of putting family first." Dew said he had no comment on whether Matheson doesn't want to associate himself with national Democrats.

Kurt Bestor, a first-time Democratic National Convention delegate, better known as a composer and jazz performer, was not too disappointed in Matheson's decision.

"If he could have been there at least the final night, it would go a long way to unity in our state party," he said. "I don't think he is trying to avoid being seen with Democrats. Most people know by now that he is a Democrat. So that's much ado about nothing."

Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Salt Lake, a convention delegate, was a bit more critical.

"I'm disappointed he's not going. I think it's one of the duties you take on as an elected official to represent the party at the convention," he said. "Because his superdelegate vote can't be replaced, we'll essentially be one vote shy."

Josie Valdez, another first-time delegate who is the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, said, "It's such an historically important event that is seems to me all the delegates would want to attend. However, if family and political duties prevent that, it's his choice."

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