Jim Matheson

He says it doesn't hurt him with fellow Democrats. But a new study shows that Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, voted with Republicans and President Bush during the past eight years more often than all but a handful of other Democrats.

"Not only do I have a good relationship with the party, but it has given me a reputation so that people in both parties know that I am someone who will look at the substance of a bill and not just the politics. So they are willing to work with me," Matheson said.

A new study by Congressional Quarterly looks at how often members of the current Congress have voted with President Bush on issues where he took a clear stand during his presidency. It also looks at how often members voted with their party on votes where clear majorities of the two parties opposed one another.

It shows that Matheson sided with Bush 41 percent of the time, or about two of every five such votes. That was the sixth highest percentage among the 236 Democrats in the House.

No Republicans sided with Bush less often than Matheson — but some came close. Rep. Wayne Gilcrest, R-Md., voted with Bush only 50 percent of the time (and was defeated in a primary this year), and Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., voted with him 51 percent of the time.

"I have always said that I try to look at each issue on its own merits and try to be an independent voice. I think that's what people in America want," Matheson said.

He said he expects more centrists from both parties to be elected this year. "Most people in the country have a low opinion of Congress and think partisanship keeps things from being done. I think there is a desire from people in both parties to elect those who are more cooperative."

Matheson's Republican opponent this year, retired homebuilder Bill Dew, said despite the findings, Matheson is still too liberal for Utah, and says he voted "wrong" on such key issues as oil drilling, tax reduction and border security.

Dew said if such votes amount to a relatively conservative voting record, "it only goes to show how liberal our Democratic-controlled Congress has become."

On average, House Democrats sided with Bush just 22 percent of the time — meaning Matheson voted with Bush almost twice as often as the typical House Democrat.

The study also said Matheson voted with Democrats only 74 percent of the time in "party unity" votes where clear majorities of each party opposed one another. That means he bolted to the Republican side on one of every four such votes.

Matheson had the seventh highest such percentage among House Democrats (and the ninth highest overall among all 435 House members).

On average, House Democrats voted with their caucus on such votes 93 percent of the time over the past eight years. Matheson's score was almost 20 percent lower.

Republicans in the Utah delegation, as expected, sided with their party and president much more often than Matheson.

In presidential support votes, Rep. Chris Cannon voted with Bush 89 percent of the time, and Rep. Rob Bishop supported him in 83 percent of such votes. The average for House Republicans was 88 percent — so Bishop was below average and Cannon was above it (although he lost the primary election to an even more conservative opponent, Jason Chaffetz).

In such votes in the Senate, Sen. Bob Bennett voted with Bush 92 percent of the time, and Sen. Orrin Hatch supported him in 91 percent of the votes. The average for Senate Republicans was 88 percent — so both Utah senators were above that. (Bennett's score tied for sixth highest, and Hatch tied for 12th highest among Senate Republicans.)

On "party unity" votes, both Hatch and Bennett voted with majorities of their party 93 percent of the time — both higher than the 90 percent average for Senate Republicans. They tied for the second highest such percentage among Senate Republicans.

Both Cannon and Bishop voted with their party 97 percent of the time — again, both higher than the 90 percent average for House Republicans.

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