Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson unexpectedly bowed out Tuesday from another run for the House, a decision that gives rising Republican star Mia Love an edge in the 2014 race.
"I just never saw me doing this all my life," Matheson told the Salt Lake Tribune
Tuesday. "I always thought there would be other chapters in what I do in my public service career and this just seemed the right time to move on to the next opportunity."
Love, a Saratoga Springs mayor who rose to prominence with a prime speaking role at the 2012 Republican National Convention,
was gearing up for a competitive rematch against the seven-term incumbent, the state's only Democratic congressman.
She lost to him last year by just 768 votes.
The 53-year-old Matheson, son of former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson, first ran for Congress in 1999 and has held onto the seat for seven terms in a largely red state.
Larry Sebato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, tweeted that Matheson's announcement Tuesday was a political game changer.
Campaign reports filed in October showed Love's retooled campaign had raised — and spent — money certainly like she meant business.
From July through September, Love brought in more than $590,000 compared to Matheson's collection of just $278,000, filings showed. Love spent more than $376,000 in the same period.
Still, Matheson's decision stunned Love's campaign, U.S. News & World Report
"This was a total surprise," Dave Hansen, Love's campaign director, told the news magazine. "This becomes a different campaign, obviously... It was going to be focused on the general election. Now, it will focus more on the primary."
The National Republican Congressional Committee, however, hailed the retirement as a sign of vulnerability for Democrats everywhere.
"It's telling that Matheson, who didn't even vote for Obamacare's original passage, knows he can't run and win in this climate. If it's this bad for him, imagine how bad 2014 will be for the vast majority of Democrats who actually supported Obamacare from its start," NRCC Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said in a release.
Love said Matheson's decision changes nothing.
"I certainly respect his decision and I wish him well in anything he decides to do," Love said. "We’re going to keep going forward and raising money and getting our message out."
Before Matheson's announcement, Love was gearing up for the race, pushing back against his accusations that she was a tea-party extremist whose election would only further polarize Congress. "I am not an extremist. I’ve never been an extremist," Love told the Tribune
during a Washington visit last month.
"I’ve talked to other tea-party members and, you know, the tea [partyers] have different ideas of who they are and what they believe in and what I’m telling you now is they’ve been the ones who label me. I don’t want anyone to put me in a box."
Yet the newspaper notes Love courted tea-party groups when she first ran for Congress in 2012, and that her campaign had ties to conservative Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who came under fire for backing the failed effort to defund Obamacare, leading to a 17-day government shutdown in October.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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