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Matt Doheny (R) with Saranac Lake Community Store general manager Craig Waters. Photo: Brian Mann
Matt Doheny (R) with Saranac Lake Community Store general manager Craig Waters. Photo: Brian Mann

NY21: Doheny hopes main street business message will lift him past Owens

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With less than three months to go before the November election, Republican challenger Matt Doheny says he's on track to unseat Democratic congressman Bill Owens from Plattsburgh.

Most national pundits have described the race as a toss-up, though one poll released last week by the Democratic Party showed Owens with a 12-point lead.

During a visit yesterday to Saranac Lake, the Republican acknowledged that this year's contest has drawn less attention, from the media and from voters.

As Brian Mann reports, Doheny hopes to flip the 21st district back to the GOP, in part by focusing on small businesses and the lingering economic recession in the North Country.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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 Mid-afternoon, Matt Doheny is making the rounds in Saranac Lake, dropping by the Community Store. 

During the long summer months, while voters minds have mostly been on just about anything but politics, Doheny has been stumping hard across the 21st district, which stretches now from Glens Falls to Watertown to Plattsburgh

One of his big themes has been a promise to visit fifty businesses in fifty days. 

After getting a tour of the community’s store, which opened last October here in the village, Doheny quizzes company president Melinda Little. 

"So what would success be?  Obviously one dollar more in the till than you spent?" he asks.

Little says the store's board of directors hopes to generate more than $400,000 in gross sales in the first year.

Doheny, a former investment banker and businessman from Watertown, hopes to unseat Democratic congressman Bill Owens – himself a former attorney and businessman from Plattsburgh.

This focus on small businesses is in part an effort to draw attention to stubborn economic pain in the North Country – where in some counties unemployment still runs above 11 percent.

That’s far higher than in the rest of the US and in the rest of the country.  Given that hardship, Doheny says his Republican message will resonate.

"I know a lot of business people," he says.  "Not one time have they said, 'If you raise my taxes, make the regulatory regime more difficult and ad burdens like Obamacare I'm going to hire people.'  It just doesn't happen."

But Doheny acknowledges that capturing the district will be "a battle."

Bill Owens — now a three-year incumbent — has worked hard over the last three years to tack toward the center, voting with Republicans on big issues, rejecting President Obama’s plan to raise taxes on wealthy Americans, opposing a hike in the national minimum wage. 

Still, Doheny says he doesn’t think Owens' voting record will muddle the lines in the minds of voters.

"I think the record's pretty clear, you know, when [Owens] goes to Washington two and a half years ago and your first vote is to make sure that Obamacare passes the house."

Doheny’s platform is mostly in line with his national party.  He wants lower taxes, fewer regulations and says he’ll vote to repeal Obamacare.

But Doheny also acknowledges that while small businesses are important in the North Country’s economy, government remains far and away the largest employer and the largest investor in basic services – everything from transportation to communications.

"Certainly the government and particularly the federal government has a role to play to develop the infrastructure to make sure that people have the opportunity to live and to live their own dream."

So Doheny has worked hard to avoid the kind of hard line ideological positions and fierce, culture war rhetoric that colored congressional campaigns in the North Country in 2009 and again in 2010.

In those races, tea party-conservative candidate Doug Hoffman added a big dose of caffeine to the contest, but Owens prevailed by narrow margins.

This time around, Doheny has a straight one-on-one shot at Bill Owens. 

By touring businesses, he’s hoping to gain traction as the sort of main street-mainstream Republican who might flip this district back to the GOP.  

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