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It’s put up or shut up time for the left-wing of Utah’s Democratic party.

For years, they stood to the side sniping at Rep. Jim Matheson that he was a DINO (Democrat in Name Only). His penchant to vote with Republicans infuriated them. His vote against Nancy Pelosi for Speaker was unforgivable. His independent streak and failure to toe the party line made their blood boil.

Their thought process basically goes like this. The reason Utah’s Democrats routinely get crushed at the polls is they put up candidates who are basically “Republican lite” - so close to the GOP that there’s no “real choice” for voters, so they default to the GOP. Better to stick with the devil you know than one you don’t.

They reason if voters only had the opportunity to choose between the GOP and a “true Democrat,” the results would be much different, as the Democrats would offer a better path forward for the state.

Now’s their chance.

With Matheson announcing he will not seek another term in Congress, many longtime Democrats are hoping the progressives step up and put forward their dream candidate, whomever that may be. Not because they think a “true Democrat” would take the state by storm, but because it would force the lefties in their own party to face the hard truth. Utah is a Republican state, and putting up a progressive at the polls would lead to an electoral slaughter.

Before now, those who were critical of Matheson could sit back and snipe at him without fear of consequences. Their views haven’t been tested at the polls. It’s classic armchair quarterbacking. “I could do so much better if I were in that situation,” says the person with nothing to lose.

But, eventually, that rhetoric runs smack-dab into the brick wall of political reality.

Mike Tyson famously said “Everybody has a gameplan until they get punched in the face.”

Any candidate in Utah running on a true progressive political agenda will get smacked in the mouth at the polls by a 30-40 point margin.

Privately, many middle-of-the-road Democrats are praying a candidate like Pete Ashdown or Claudia Wright jumps into the fray. They’ll be cheered at the state convention. They’ll make lefties feel all warm inside. Then they’ll struggle to be taken seriously and get annihilated come November.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, akin to a child insisting they know better than an adult. Sometimes you just have to let them try and fail.

But, that failure might be a good thing for Utah’s minority party.

Right now, it’s a party divided. For all of their talk about a “vision” for the state, they have no clue where the path toward electoral relevance lies.

Is it economic populism? Reaching out to minority voters? Convincing Mormons that it’s okay to be a Democrat? Marriage equality? Environmentalism? There are so many factions seeking attention within the party, they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Perhaps the electoral drubbing that awaits the Democrats  in 2014 will provide some clarity for the road ahead.