WASHINGTON - Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson met personally with Sen. Orrin Hatch recently to assure the Republican he would not run for the Senate next year, squelching one of the state's juiciest political rumors that sprouted amid some tough talk from Hatch's campaign.
I just wanted to tell him and not put it in the press first. I value the relationship and look forward to building on it, Matheson said in an interview. People in politics gossip more than any other vocation I know, and it's not productive and I just wanted to put an end to it right now.
The two sat down in Hatch's office in what both characterized as a cordial meeting.
It was a very nice thing for him to do, Hatch said. Whatever he decided would have been fine. I was pleased that he came to see me.
Matheson's comfortable re-election win in 2004 in his Republican-leaning district fueled speculation that he might take on Hatch, although Matheson's staff downplayed such a possibility.
It reached the point that Hatch's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, was quoted
in the UtahPolicy.com blog suggesting Matheson should recognize that staying in the House where he will most likely be re-elected is much preferable to running against a 'sure winner' and ending his political career."
Hansen said he did not intend the statement as a threat, but an acknowledgment that Matheson could have harmed his potentially bright political career if he tried to make the jump to the Senate.
Within the last month the campaign conducted a poll on a variety of issues, including a hypothetical head-to-head contest between Matheson and Hatch and several
other possible Democratic opponents. Hansen would not give specifics of the poll, but said Hatch had a strong showing against Matheson.
The Hatch campaign had more than $1 million in its bank account at the close of the most recent fund-raising reporting period, he said.
Matheson's stepping aside leaves an open Democratic field. Pete Ashdown, president of the Internet firm XMission, has said he will run against Hatch. State Rep. Pat Jones was also asked to run, but she quickly turned it down.
He's done some good things that I agree
with, Jones said. Stem cell research . . . children's health insurance, seniors issues, which are all issues that I care about.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Donald Dunn said Matheson certainly could have beaten Hatch, but that he understands Matheson feels there is work left to do in his congressional district.
Dunn expects other candidates to get into the race, and says that after 30 years Utahns are tired of Hatch. The senator, he insists, could be upset.
Senator Hatch has a promising career in songwriting, Dunn said, referring
to the lyrics that Hatch writes in his spare time.
Hatch said he will deal with the issue of a challenger when it arises.