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The night started with optimism. Businessman Matt Doheny had run a campaign rooted in hustle. He had melted a 13-point Siena poll deficit to just one point in a month. He had momentum. In the campaign’s final days, Doheny visited all 22 towns in his home base of Jefferson County. He crisscrossed the massive district one last time on Election Day.
Matthew Wojasinski is a Jefferson Community College student who interned with Doheny. "I’ve never seen a man work so hard in my life to get the job done," he said. "He’s truly doing it for the people and not just for himself."
The lead went back and forth all night. At one point, Doheny and Owens were within 200 votes of each other. The talk turned to absentee ballots.
Jefferson County legislator Bobby Ferris crowded around the TV with other supporters, hushed and tense: "This is really kinda crazy. It’s very very close. And it’s flip-floppin'."
But Owens opened up a late 4,000 vote lead. And in what seemed a sudden turn, Doheny arrived and took the podium at midnight for an announcement. "Five minutes ago, I called Congressman Owens and congratulated him for a hard fought victory. We came up short. It’s just that simple."
Doheny’s wife of five months stood next to him in a bright red dress. He thanked her and promised their long-delayed honeymoon.
Doheny thanked his supporters. He acknowledged the more than $2 million he and outside groups poured into the race attacking Bill Owens as bad for the economy: "We put a lot of resources against Mr. Owens. Sometimes, I’ve learned in politics, things just don’t go your way."
Pointing to strong results for President Obama in the North Country, Doheny sounded a note of caution for his fellow Republicans: "Just to be intellectually honest, which I have always been, and that’s part of why I’m a Republican and running for Congress, if you look at the results today, I don’t know how Republican this 21st Congressional District is anymore. You’ll see with the President Obama numbers. It was very challenging."
Jefferson County Republican Committee chairman Donald Coon said Doheny has nothing to be ashamed of: "Matt certainly did all the work, an incredible amount of travel. It just wasn’t a year that was going to go to Republicans."
Doheny took three shots at becoming the North Country’s Congressman, since John McHugh became Secretary of the Army more than three years ago. Once he was denied the party nod. Twice he lost races by very narrow margins. Last night, he said this race would be his last: "That’ll be that for me, politically. And we’ll go forward and have a good life."
With that, the couple left quickly. They left supporters agreeing Doheny gave everything he could, and wondering how Republicans can take back a seat they once took for granted.