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Owens making his victory speech just after midnight Wednesday morning. Photo: Mark Kurtz
Owens making his victory speech just after midnight Wednesday morning. Photo: Mark Kurtz

Owens wins NY21 after tough race

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Democrat Bill Owens survived one of the most costly and bitter political campaigns in North Country history Tuesday night.

The Plattsburgh congressman traded blows through the summer with Matt Doheny, a Watertown investment banker.

Doheny promised to return the region's House district to Republican hands in 2010 and again in 2012.

But once again Tuesday night, Owens prevailed -- this time holding the seat by at least 4,000 votes.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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The night began with brutal numbers for Bill Owens, showing him down by a wide margin in the district that stretches from Watertown to Plattsburgh to Glens Falls and Old Forge. 

He’d been pummeled for weeks with millions of dollars of attack ads, many of them paid for by outside groups that don’t disclose their donor. 

Owens intern Kim Belizaire waits nervously for returns Tuesday night.  Photo:  Mark Kurtz
Owens intern Kim Belizaire waits nervously for returns Tuesday night. Photo: Mark Kurtz
Kim Belizaire is a 20-year-old student at SUNY Plattsburgh who worked as an intern on Owens campaign. She said she joined Owens' campaign because she’s pro-choice and supported Owens decision to vote in favor of Obamacare.

But now she was sweating bullets. "Every time it goes up and down, you go, Oh man!" Belizaire said. "So it's very intense and nervewracking."

Republicans had pulled out all the stops to win back a district that had been in Republican hands literally since the Republican Party was created in the 1800s – until Bill Owens captured it in 2009.

Top GOP officials from Washington barnstormed for challenger Matt Doheny. In the final days, former New York governor George Pataki robo-called voters.

Matthew Doheny concedes congressional race to Bill Owens. Photo: David Winters
Matthew Doheny concedes congressional race to Bill Owens. Photo: David Winters
"When you head to the polls tomorrow, think jobs," Pataki urged, "and vote Matt Doheny for congress."

Doheny also won big endorsements, from the Watertown Daily Times and the Glens Falls Post Star – two of the district’s most important newspapers.

But as the hours ticked past, the numbers for Owens improved and improved again. 

The Democrat slammed Doheny in St. Lawrence County, the Republican’s home turf. And Owens also won big in his own back yard in Clinton County. 

When Owens finally took the podium, he was ready to declare victory.

"I just want you to know that about three minutes ago, Matt Doheny called me to concede," Owens said, sparking a round of whoops and cheers.

It was a brutal campaign, but Owens said he believes that the next Congress has to find ways to work across party lines, finding "rational compromise" that can boost the economy and the middle class.

One of the people in the crowd at the American Legion Hall was June O’Neill, a veteran North Country political operative who once chaired the state Democratic Party.

June O'Neill at Owens headquarters Tuesday night. Photo: Mark Kurtz
June O'Neill at Owens headquarters Tuesday night. Photo: Mark Kurtz
She described Owens' win as a victory of grassroots organizing over big money from Super PACs and anonymous donors.

"The North Country has proven that we're not for sale," O'Neill said.

This was an ugly contest, with plenty of name-calling and nasty attack ads. During his concession, Owens offered no words for Matt Doheny. When asked about the Republican challenger, he answered this way.

"I wish him all the best and I hope he stays in the North Country and helps us all push the North Country forward."

And remember that young intern, Kim Belizaire, from SUNY Plattsburgh? When the night was over, Bill Owens was re-elected and Barack Obama had won a second term and she was glowing.

"I did the work, I put in the hours, I was stressed, I was tired, I was hungry. But we did it, I guess. So now I'm happy."

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