This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Washington • For the first time in 14 years, Rep. Jim Matheson isn't sure what he's going to do on Election Day.
"Well, I don't know," the Utah Democrat told me recently. "I haven't really thought about it that much. I guess I have to figure that out."
Usually, Matheson would be huddled backstage at the Utah Democratic Party's election night rally, watching as returns flowed in and hoping for another victory. Matheson's "Utah First" signs would be dominating neighborhoods and the airwaves flooded with pro-Matheson (and anti-Matheson) ads.
Not this time. There's no Matheson on the ballot.
Since the Utah Democrat opted against running for his House seat again he could be back for a Senate or gubernatorial bid in 2016 the politician hasn't needed to be out politicking. No door-to-door election pitches, no phone banking, no rallies. And Matheson says he misses that.
"I miss the campaigning," he says. "I love talking to people. I don't miss the fundraising but I miss the campaigning."
Sure, Matheson was front and center at the July Fourth parades, and he's been no stranger to Utah this year. He backs Doug Owens to fill his 4th District seat and has stumped for him in the hotly contested race against Mia Love. And Matheson says he's put his focus on ensuring the handoff to whomever is elected runs smooth.
His backlog of constituent requests is nearly zero, he says, and he was able to attend the recent House hearing on the Ebola outbreak because he wasn't out trying to sway voters.
"It's actually been kind of fun to do that," Matheson explains, "because I feel good about leaving everything completed as best as it can be."
As he does every August congressional break, Matheson took a family vacation, this time embarking on a 2,300-mile road trip to the badlands of the Dakotas. He saw Mount Rushmore along with Theodore Roosevelt and Wind Cave national parks. But he couldn't plan some exotic family getaway.
"It's not like because I have more flexibility suddenly they have the flexibility, too," he notes. "School and whatnot are still there."
As he noted, Matheson hasn't had to beg donors for money this time; he raised zero contributions in the past quarter. But he's still sitting on a pile of cash, $475,000, that he could use to take on Sen. Mike Lee in two years or pour into a race against Gov. Gary Herbert.
For now, though, Matheson is on the sidelines for the first time since his 2000 bid for Congress, and his friends suggest he enjoy a Tuesday night off.
"He should plan a date with his wife on election evening," says Salt Lake County Democratic Mayor Ben McAdams, "and not worry about the election; celebrate the fact that he's not watching election returns."
After all, it might be his last chance for a few years.
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Burr has reported for The Salt Lake Tribune for nearly a decade from Washington, D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @thomaswburr.