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National GOP targets Matheson's seat in 2010 election

National Republicans are painting a big, fat target on the back of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah. He says he expected that and isn't worried.

The National Republican Congressional Committee — the arm of the GOP that focuses on U.S. House races — sent an e-mail to supportive political action committees identifying 70 Democratic-held seats (out of 256) that it plans to target in upcoming elections with its money and resources.

Matheson is among those 70 targeted Democrats, according to a copy of the e-mail obtained Monday by Politico.

"I'd be disappointed if I wasn't on the list. I don't know if I'd know how to react," Matheson said, noting he has been on or mentioned for such lists in each of his previous five House races — probably because he is the only congressional Democrat in heavily Republican Utah.

"It doesn't change what I do," Matheson said. "I run aggressively every time, whether I'm on a list they put out or not."

Matheson has built a huge head start on any potential challenger. He reported just over $1 million in his campaign fund at the end of June.

But NRCC spokeswoman Joanna Burgos said the GOP sees opportunities against him because his district is strongly Republican and because votes on health care and energy policy may make him more vulnerable even though he has been a maverick, moderate "Blue Dog" Democrat.

"Jim Matheson can try to disguise his party affiliation as much as he wants, but at the end of the day he is a Democrat in solid Republican territory," Burgos said.

"He does vote with them (Democrats) over 90 percent of the time, and that does not reflect the values of his district. Registered Republicans account for over 60 percent of the district. (Republican) presidential candidates have won that district in the last couple of cycles. All of the numbers show it should be Republican," she said.

The NRCC e-mail that listed its targets quoted its chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, saying it is finding success in recruiting Republicans to challenge incumbent Democrats. "There are people (candidates) coming to us. We are doing far less recruiting and more catching."

But Utah Republican Chairman Dave Hansen acknowledged last week — when Matheson decided to seek House re-election instead of running for the Senate or for governor — that he could not name anyone yet who is interested in running against Matheson.

Still, Hansen said he steadfastly believes Republicans will find a good candidate and that Matheson can be beaten.

But always a political pragmatist, Hansen added: "The job of finding a candidate" to run against Matheson "is a lot harder today" than it was just a few weeks ago — when Matheson was still looking at higher office and Republicans were licking their lips over the chance of taking an open 2nd District seat next year.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com, bbjr@desnews.com