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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson said Wednesday he will run for re-election to Congress and won't seek the Democratic Party's nomination to become Utah's governor in 2010.
Matheson, a fiscally conservative moderate, was first elected to the House in 2000.
Matheson, whose father Scott was the state's last Democratic governor in 1985, was seen as one of the Democrats' best chances to take over the governor's mansion.
Highly popular Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman is expected to resign within weeks to become the U.S. ambassador to China, leaving a largely unknown Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert in the post until a special election next year.
Matheson said Wednesday his decision doesn't preclude the possibility that he'll run for statewide office in the future.
"I will be following the reapportionment of the state after the 2010 Census and the redistricting process very carefully in this regard," Matheson said in his statement.
Utah will likely receive a fourth Congressional seat following the Census. Following the 2000 Census, Matheson's district was redrawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature to oust him from office. He survived by about 1,600 votes in 2002, and since then has managed to steadily increase his margin of victory to hold one of the safest seats in Congress. In 2008, he defeated Republican Bill Dew by nearly 30 percentage points.
Early maps drawn by the Legislature would give him a solidly Democratic seat following the 2010 Census in acknowledgment that Matheson would be difficult to unseat.
Matheson's announcement leaves Democrats with a dwindling supply of well-known potential candidates for the governor's office. The most likely candidate is Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, a moderate who is highly popular in the county.
He is best known outside of Salt Lake County for thwarting a plan to spend county money to help build a soccer stadium for Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake. Eventually, Gov. Jon Huntsman stepped in to broker a deal to keep the team from bolting to St. Louis.
A message left with Corroon's spokesman Wednesday was not immediately returned.
GOP chairman Dave Hansen said Matheson's announcement caught him off guard.
"I'm not sure why he made the decision and I'm a little surprised, to be honest with you, that the decision was made this early. Certainly, it does not change our plans at all," Hansen said. "We fully intend as Republicans to campaign very hard and very aggressively for not only his seat ... but also the two offices he's been mentioned for."
In addition to the governor's office, Matheson had been mentioned as a possible challenger for U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett's seat. Bennett, who was first elected in 1992 and promised to serve only two terms, is already facing several challengers from within his own party, including from Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control chairman and restaurant owner Sam Granato has also said he's seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Bennett.
Matheson's statement said he enjoyed a good working relationship with Bennett, but did not mention Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is expected to seek a seventh term in 2012.
Hansen, who has served as a campaign manager and consultant to Hatch for several years, said that if Matheson chooses to challenge Hatch, there's no question Hatch would win.
"Just because he's been successful in one part of the state doesn't mean he's going to be successful in the entire state," he said.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)