Back when Republican legislator LaVar Christensen was trying to unseat Congressman Jim Matheson in 2006, he used to say Job One was stopping the right-of-center Democrat from voting to confirm Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the U.S. House.

At the time, that vote was really the only thing that separated Matheson from the conservatives who ran against him.

He voted for the war in Iraq and the Bush tax cuts. Sure, he tries to protect wilderness. And sometimes, he splits the difference, voting against bills—Obamacare—before he votes for them. But for all intents and purposes, Matheson is a moderate Republican. In any other state, he’d be a good conservative.

So, it’s no surprise that the heir to a Utah Democratic dynasty now says he’d renew the Bush tax cuts—ALL of them. Normally a fiscal conservative, Matheson doesn’t seem worried about projections that show extending the cuts will balloon the national debt even further.

“A fragile economic recovery is no time to raise taxes,” Matheson tweeted Tuesday.

He’s been driven into a new, more Republican congressional district by legislative redistricting. His membership in the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats doesn’t mean much in a House wagged from behind by Tea Party loyalists.

And his opponent this year is an unusual (but compelling) novelty in Utah politics: African-American Mormon Mia Love. It’s not inconceivable that the moderate Utah Republicans who vote for Matheson will want to rebut the idea that race has anything to do with their opposition to Obama by voting for Love. Scott Matheson’s son is a canny politician. In office since 2001, he’s held off six conservative challengers—in redder-than-red Utah. Whatever he’s doing is working. 

You may not know what he stands for, but Jim Matheson knows how to survive.