Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Matheson's vote on health care reform saddens Dems

health care reform

Rep. Jim Matheson's vote Saturday against the House health care reform bill has some Utah Democrats talking up an intraparty challenge against the centrist "blue dog."

But a glance at the district's demographics may quickly discourage serious rivalry from the left.

On Sunday, state Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, floated the following question on Facebook: "So is it time for me to form an exploratory "McCoy for Congress" committee given Jim Matheson's vote against the health care reform bill?"

That query brought several dozen responses, many urging the congenial -- and openly gay -- Democrat to seriously consider such a run.

"It reflects that a lot of people are upset and disappointed that Jim didn't vote for the bill," McCoy said Monday. "I join in that disappointment. This is one of the most important bills out there."

But McCoy said he has no plans to go after Matheson's seat in 2010.

"I'm flattered," McCoy said of the social-network support. "But you have to think about the composition of the whole district. Right now it's a tough row to hoe."

When congressional boundaries were readjusted after the 2000 census, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page pointed to Utah's 2nd Congressional District as one of the country's worst examples of gerrymandering. The new district lumped liberal Salt Lake City with a large swath of conservative southern Utah.

"Scott McCoy is a terrific senator representing his district in Salt Lake County," said Democrat Bill Keshlear, former state party spokesman. "But I don't know of any road map that would lead him to win in Escalante, Vernal or Kanab."

One Utah Democrat drew a distinction between Matheson's stance and that of the GOP.

"His position hasn't been the Republican party 'no way, no how,'" said Todd Taylor, executive director of the state Democratic Party. "Jim had five changes he was interested in."

Still, Utah Dems are "thrilled" with the bill's passage.

"It's a huge deal," Taylor said, "and nothing Jim did obstructed it."

On Monday, the National Republican Congressional Committee blasted Matheson for voting against the GOP health care alternative and trying to play both sides.

"Jim Matheson is so preoccupied with making the best political move for himself, that he ends up upsetting his constituents due to all the promises he breaks along the way," said NRCC spokeswoman Joanna Burgos.

Wayne Holland, who chairs the state Democratic Party, disputes that criticism, noting that Matheson ably represents a surprisingly diverse district larger than Pennsylvania.

"Jim has always been a candidate who cares about fiscal responsibility," Holland said. "That's a vote he had to take based on his constituents."

Plus, he enjoys the highest approval ratings among Utah's congressional delegation, Holland added.

"He knows how to win by big numbers -- and for that we're grateful."


Thomas Burr contributed to this story.