Rep. Matheson mulls statewide office

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) doubled down on talk he might pursue statewide office.

Matheson hinted at the possibility when he announced his retirement last week. Now he's elaborating on those thoughts, confirming interest in running for governor or challenging Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in 2016.

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"I'm a competitive guy, and I'm proud of my success in elections," Matheson tells The Salt Lake Tribune when asked about a run for one of those offices. "I don't have a problem facing competition."

Matheson is seen as the Democrats' best candidate for any office in Utah. The centrist congressman and leader in the Blue Dog Democrats has held onto the most Republican district of any House Democrat for years, beating back successive challengers, and is the son of a popular former governor.

His statewide approval rating in an October poll was 58 percent — impressive for a Democrat in the deep red state — and he has nearly $700,000 in his House war chest he could use for a run for higher office.

The seven-term lawmaker shocked political observers when he announced he wouldn't seek reelection. He faced a tough rematch against Republican Mia Love, a rising GOP star who came within a 1,000 votes of beating him in 2012. Matheson's retirement likely hands Republicans his House seat.

A fellow Blue Dog, former Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), followed a similar plan, retiring from the House in 2012 before launching a bid for governor in 2014. Polls show he's in a strong position despite his state's conservative lean.