Utah Blue Dog Dem Matheson Forced Into House Primary

It was a busy political convention weekend in Utah, with party activists feeling restless. Over on the Democratic side, five-term Rep. Jim Matheson was unable to reach 60% of the delegate vote at his party’s convention, forcing him into a primary for his house seat against retired high school teacher and adjunct college instructor Claudia Wright. And all this in the same weekend that saw Utah GOPers unseat their own incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett.

Matheson took 55% of the vote to Wright’s 45% — a stunning position for a nine-year incumbent. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Democratic activists were put off by the Blue Dog Matheson’s instances of voting against the Democratic legislative agenda, with his vote against the new health care reform law as one example.

“You’re angry about some of my votes,” Matheson told the convention, which responded with what the Tribune described as ironic applause. “But I’m a Democrat and I’m here to tell you I don’t run from that label because it’s in my blood.”Also appearing at the convention on Matheson’s behalf was House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who appealed to the delegates to support the Congressman as the only Democrat who can win the seat. The district voted 58%-40% for John McCain in 2008, and 66%-31% for George W. Bush in 2004.

“I expect members of Congress to come and represent their districts,” Hoyer told reporters.

While Matheson is now forced into a primary, it should be noted that he has a huge advantage going into the June 22 vote — namely, in money. The pre-convention FEC filings showed Matheson with $1.4 million cash on hand, compared to Wright’s $8,952.78.

With numbers like that, we asked Wright spokesman Mike Picardi whether they could sustain their campaign push — or would their showing at the convention be the product of an appeal to die-hard core activists, with the campaign still unequipped to appeal to a larger pool of primary voters? Picardi said that the campaign has been reaching out to national progressive groups such as EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood, and hopes to line up support.

“We don’t have any money [from the groups] in the bank right now. We don’t have any full blown commitments,” said Picardi. “But there have been people who have come forward in the last few days and said they are going to reexamine her positions on things and see about raising some money.”

The Matheson campaign did not return our requests for comment.