Rep. Jim Matheson announced Tuesday he will retire at the end of his term, providing Republicans with a likely House seat pickup in 2014.
With a tough re-election flight looming in his conservative Salt Lake City-area district, the Utah Democrat decided against seeking a seventh term in the House.
“When I launched my first campaign in 1999, I knew that the arc of my public service would have many chapters,” he wrote on his official Facebook page. “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, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, barely won re-election in 2012 after redistricting dramatically altered his district. He defeated Republican Mia Love by less than 800 votes — a notable achievement considering the top-of-the-ticket drag he faced. In a state where Mitt Romney was extremely popular, President Obama won just 30 percent of the vote in Matheson’s 4th District.
Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, is taking another crack at the seat in 2014. She’s gotten off to a blistering fundraising start for a challenger, bringing in $568,500 in the last quarter alone – twice the amount Matheson raised during the same period. The two were about even in cash-on-hand at the end of the third quarter.
While Matheson was considered to be one of the more vulnerable House incumbents, his decision to drop out of the race still came as a surprise. He held a fundraising event as recently as last Friday.
The strong conservative tilt of the district left Republicans optimistic about their chances of picking up the seat and Democrats largely silent.
“This is a warning signal to Democrats coast to coast,” National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Greg Walden said in a statement. “Not only will this announcement allow Republicans to focus our energy and resources on defeating other vulnerable Democrats, but it also proves that ObamaCare has become a total nightmare for any Democrat running in 2014.”
Matheson was one of three House members to announce their retirements Tuesday: GOP Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Tom Latham of Iowa also said they would not run for re-election in 2014.
The Utah Democrat is the first House Democrat to announce his or her retirement this year.