Utah Democrats Defy Steny Hoyer, Force Blue Dog Matheson Into 6/22 Primary

Sure, the big news out of Utah today was that Senator Bob Bennett’s career ended at the hand of the GOP invasion by teabaggers, but across town, US House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer couldn’t convince Democrats to spare their Blue Dog anti-HCR-vote Congressman, Jim Matheson, a primary.

Democrats on Saturday forced Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, to a primary against challenger Claudia Wright.

Matheson won 55 percent of the vote to Wright’s 45 percent, and much of the crowd at the Salt Palace erupted into a "Yes we can!" chant when the numbers were announced about 4:45 p.m. She needed at least 40 percent to force a runoff.

A minimum of 60 percent of delegate votes was needed to avoid a June 22 primary.

Wright, a retired high school teacher and college gender studies instructor, fought a spirited campaign at convention to assure delegates she is electable in a district that Matheson’s backers said is too conservative for her. Liberal Salt Lake City Democrats had chosen her to challenge Matheson after his vote against the health care reform bill, pushed by President Barack Obama.

And Matheson called out a big gun from DeeCee to address the delegates:

Wright also was battling a powerful Matheson advocate in U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland. He said Matheson had invited him to Utah and he came to help re-elect him and keep the Democratic majority in Congress.

Hoyer made a pragmatic pitch to delegates, saying that only Matheson can win in the moderately conservative 2nd Congressional District and that he is important to the majority even if he doesn’t vote strictly along party lines.

"I expect members of Congress to come and represent their districts," he said in a news conference. He contrasted Democrats’ "big tent" to the far-right Republicans who rejected three-term Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and urged Democrats not to splinter in the same way.

"Jim Matheson is uniquely qualified and uniquely in touch with that district," he said.

You have to wonder whether Steny is on his own here; weren’t we told that the Democratic party machine wouldn’t engage quite so heavily for Democratic House members who opposed the President’s signature initiative? What’s Steny doing trying to tamp down a primary against a Democrat who voted against HCR, anyway?

June 22nd is when we’ll find out which of these Democrats will carry the banner into the November election. It will be fun to see whether other heavy hitters make the trip to back the Blue Dog after he didn’t back Obama’s HCR play.

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