Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, stands at the podium during a press conference announcing the U.S. Chamber’s formal endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who is to the right foreground. U.S. Chamber chief political officer Rob Engstrom stands to Beattie’s right, and said that the national pro-business group is proud to support Matheson once again.
A coincidence? Or was Love and the national Republicans, once again, trying to step on the moderate Democrat’s feet.
“You think?” Matheson told UtahPolicy just before his chamber press conference in the Grand America Hotel.
But Matheson says he’s not letting it get him down. He’s proud to be one of the few Democrats getting a U.S. Chamber endorsement this year.
And he says Love’s convention speaking slot, in the end, won’t mean much.
“It didn’t help Derek Smith 12 years ago, did it?” said Matheson, reaching all the way back to 2000 and Matheson’s first race for the then-2nd Congressional District.
Smith got to speak at the GOP event, but Matheson handily defeated him.
But 2012 is different. As is Love, who would be the first Black GOP U.S. House female member if she can defeat Matheson this fall.
Recent polls show Matheson still holds a healthy lead over Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, in the newly-created 4th Congressional District.
Rob Engstrom, the national chamber’s senior vice president for political affairs and national political director, flew in to formally endorse Matheson.
It’s not unexpected.
The chamber has already spent tens of thousands of dollars on pro-Matheson TV ads that ran earlier this year in Utah.
Engstrom was careful about his words in a UtahPolicy interview about whether the chamber will be running more pro-Matheson ads here (as an independent entity the chamber can’t coordinate any campaign with Matheson).
“I can’t be specific with the congressman in the room,” Engstrom said.
But he added that the chamber will be “aggressive” in its endorsements of all of its candidates, especially in states where their endorsees face close competition.
The chamber “automatically” endorses any member of Congress who votes with the chamber’s issues at least 70 percent of the time.
Matheson, during his 12-year tenure, has voted with the chamber and for American business just short of 80 percent of the time, said Engstrom.
“Thus, we are proud to endorse him this year – a year that is critical because of the terrible anti-business alphabet soup of regulations and laws that have come down over the last four years,” said Engstrom.
Specifically, Matheson has voted and argued the right way on trade, job creation and energy issues, Engstrom told UtahPolicy.
“He voted against Obamacare, for the Keystone (oil) pipeline and for a number of trade issues,” he added.
For his part, Matheson said he was very pleased and proud to accept the U.S. Chamber’s endorsement.
“It shows what I’m about,” he said.
While Love may have the endorsement of about ever major GOP officeholder/candidate, nationally and locally, that just shows “she is all about party. I’m all about Utah.”
Engstrom said the chamber has no worries that the Matheson endorsement may harm the business group with GOP national leaders, Mitt Romney or congressional Republican leadership.
“We are not a partisan organization. We are a pro-business organization,” he said.
While the national chamber endorses and supports financially more Republicans than Democrats, Engstrom said in 2010 his group endorsed and worked for 21 congressional incumbent Democrats – two senators and 19 House members (Matheson being one.)
Unfortunately, said Engstrom, there will be fewer Democratic endorsements this year. That’s because in 2010 so many of the so-called moderate or conservative Democratic incumbents lost in the Tea Party landslide.
The U.S. Chamber board will make their final 2012 endorsements in a Sept. 11 meeting, said Engstrom.
Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, was on hand to introduce Engstrom.
“The local chamber does not endorse specific candidates,” said Beattie, a former GOP state Senate president from Bountiful.
And Beattie said while he has personally endorsed some Democratic candidates in the past, he is not personally endorsing Matheson or any other candidates this year.
“Those individual endorsements have proven hard on me and the (Salt Lake) chamber in the past – so I’m not doing any this year,” Beattie told UtahPolicy.
Beattie is on the national chamber board, and in that role he said the national chamber is proud of Matheson’s middle of the road approach to lawmaking.
“I consider the Democrats that we endorse to be conservative by nature,” said Engstrom.
And so in his battle with Love, Matheson can now officially say he is considered a conservative Democrat by the U.S. Chamber.
How much that may help remains to be seen.
“I’ve always stood for Utah,” said Matheson; the podium holding a small sign that said: “Jim for Jobs.”
While his campaign can’t coordinate with the national chamber or any other independent group on what their message may be in supporting him, Matheson clearly likes the fact that the No. 1 business-lobbying group in the U.S. is now officially standing behind his 2012 election.