Jim Matheson Dropout Shocks Mia Love's Campaign

Seven-term congressman bowing out ahead of tough campaign.

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Seven-term Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, announced Tuesday he would retire instead of running again against Mia Love.

Since he was elected in 2000, the Blue Dog Democrat has faced a series of tough re-election bids. Matheson held the most Republican district of any House Democrat. After pouring more than $2 million into his 2012 race, he won his seat by a mere 768 votes.

"It has been a tremendous privilege to serve the people of Utah during my time in the United States House of Representatives, but my time in the House should not be the sum total of my service," Matheson said in a statement Tuesday. "I take the role of representative seriously and intend to conclude this chapter of my service to our state in the same way I have always approached my job."

Matheson signaled Tuesday, however, that he wasn't giving up on politics completely.

"While at the end of 2014 my tenure in the House of Representatives will come to an end, my duty to our state and our country will undoubtedly continue," Matheson said.

Matheson is well-known in Washington as a centrist and has been identified as the Democrat most likely to vote against the party line. At the start of the 113th Congress - when most Democrats voted for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi,D-Calif., to be the House speaker - Matheson cast his vote for the more conservative Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. He also voted alongside Republicans to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as part of a short-term funding bill and against raising the debt ceiling this fall. Matheson also opposes gay marriage, arguing that marriage should remain between one man and one woman.

As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Matheson focused on ways to increase natural gas use in vehicles. He sponsored a bill to increase the amount of money Cold War-era radiation victims receive from the government and lobbied hard for the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Matheson's retirement came as a "total surprise" to Mia Love's campaign.

The former Saratoga Springs mayor had planned on mounting a rematch against Matheson and even hired some of Utah's top campaign strategists to retool her campaign for the upcoming battle.

"This was a total surprise," says Dave Hansen, Love's campaign director. "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 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.