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Washington • On the campaign trail, Rep. Jim Matheson often says Utahns know him, a comment he makes when he feels his Republican opponents are trying to paint him as something he is not.

But actually getting to know Matheson as a person isn't easy. He's clearly Utah's most tight-lipped congressman and even some people who've known him for decades have a hard time talking about anything beyond his political stances.

In interviews with more than 15 friends, family and professional associates, Matheson was described as "quiet," "reserved, "unassuming," "thoughtful" and "modest."

Matheson says he's just being who he is, though spending 12 years in Congress may have an impact on what he shares.

"I think when you are in public life, you develop a little bit of a protective attitude about your family and your private life," Matheson said. "Some people develop more of an attitude than others in that regard."

And yet, The Salt Lake Tribune did cull a few tidbits about Matheson and the way he views the world.

The Leavitt connection • One of Matheson's closest friends is Eric Leavitt, a Republican and the brother of former Gov. Mike Leavitt. The two met while working together at Bonneville Pacific. Leavitt is even the treasurer of Matheson's political action committee. They continue to share season tickets to University of Utah football games and Matheson participates in Leavitt's fantasy football league, which the congressman won last year. The name of his team is "The Token Democrats."

Matheson jokes: "If the shoe fits ... "

The organizer • Matheson grew up just a few houses away from John Firmage and they have been friends since they "were able to walk and talk." Firmage, who now owns Culligan Water and a BMW dealership, says Matheson's role was to plan the after-school football or baseball games. In high school, Matheson set up a massive game of musical chairs that at the time merited an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

He is still the social planner.

Firmage, a registered Republican, and his wife play in Matheson's couples bridge group, which meets monthly. The congressman is the one who sets the annual schedule and emails it to the group each January.

"That kind of defines what Jim is," Firmage said. "He's kind of been the organizer."

The brain trust • Matheson's closest political advisers have long been his family. His mother, Norma (with whom he speaks daily), his brother, Scott, and his sister-in-law, Robyn. But Scott Matheson Jr. is now an appellate court judge and that means he can't participate in partisan politics. Norma Matheson said her eldest son takes his oath so seriously that it has inhibited the political conversations that have been a staple around the Matheson family dinner table.

"It puts a little downside on it," she said. "Scott is very serious about following the rules of ethics."

A Redskin and a Red Sox • Matheson may be a Blue Dog Democrat, but he sure likes the color red. Not only does he root for the Utes, but his favorite baseball team is the Boston Red Sox and his favorite football team is the Washington Redskins. His brother even got him tickets to the 1983 Super Bowl, where the Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins to win their first world championship.

The Greens • As a young man, Matheson got paid $3 on Wednesdays and Saturdays for mowing the lawn of the Green family, who lived four doors away from his house on Hubbard Avenue. When he won his first congressional race is 2000, he ended up buying their house. He's still mowing the same lawn.

mcanham@sltrib.comTwitter: @mattcanham

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