In his Washington office, six-term Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat, sits coolly with his right foot perched on his coffee table, black cowboy boot exposed as he explains why he has got this year's election under control.
"This isn't my first rodeo," he says. "I am perpetually on the target list. This is nothing new."
On the ground though, he's playing in a new arena. [See How a Do-Nothing Congress is Stalling the Economy.]
Matheson, who currently represents Utah's 2nd District has chosen to campaign in the new 4th District after he said the Utah state legislature essentially "blew up" his old stomping ground,
And after two thirds of Matheson's base was siphoned off into the state's three other districts, Utah's 4th has more new constituents than familiar faces.
Matheson's new district contains younger suburban families, some of whom are strapped with underwater mortgages and are less familiar with his family's political legacy in the state - his father was a governor.
No doubt redistricting has made Matheson's future in Congress more ambiguous, but throughout his tenure, Matheson has consistently held the most conservative district in the country represented by a Democrat. Knowing it'd be an uphill climb, Matheson toyed with the idea of running for governor and retiring from the House, but decided Congress needed more moderates.
Utes, as people from Utah are called, have not been afraid to split a ticket in the past, but Republican presidential candidates win in landslides in the state. GOP candidate John McCain earned a whopping 62 percent of the vote in 2008 and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who successfully ran the Salt Lake City Olympics and has support from fellow Mormons in Utah, is expected to dominate the state and mobilize voters to the polls. [See: Latest political cartoons]
"Utah has gone from one of the highest voter turnout states to one of the lowest and the Romney Tsunami will probably correct that," says Kirk Jowers, the director of the Hinckley Center for Politics at the University of Utah. "There will be so many more voters for Romney that it could end Matheson's winning streak."
But Jowers says it's a tight race because Matheson's record and responsiveness to constituents makes him consistently one of the top two most popular politicians in the state.
Matheson, a former co-chair of the Blue Dog coalition, sometimes strays from party discipline and votes independently, raising the ire of the Democratic leadership.
On foreign policy, Matheson's record looks more Republican than Democrat. He voted to extend the PATRIOT Act, and he voted for military intervention in Iraq. It's hard to pin him down as socially conservative or economically liberal.
He opposes abortion, but supports embryonic stem-cell research. He voted for the Dodd-Frank reform of Wall Street, but was also one of five Democrats to support Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, which would have increased the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion, made dramatic future cuts in spending and introduced a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
In March 2010, Matheson was one of 34 Democrats to vote against president Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. And while he voted against the House's repeal vote in January 2011, Matheson voted on a July repeal, after the Supreme Court upheld the law, because he says he came to the conclusion that Congress could do better than the existing legislation.
Matheson voted to hold George W. Bush's White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress after she refused to cooperate in a congressional investigation and also joined 16 other Democrats to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to turn over thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents.
"This wasn't a Republican or Democratic vote, everyone ought to be held accountable," Matheson says. "We ought to get the documents out there, let the chips fall where they may."
While Republican opponents have criticized him and called him opportunistic for playing both sides of the aisle, Matheson says his independent streak is symbolic of his Utah district