Skip Navigation
Regional News
Republican Matt Doheny poses with Carol Enslow, left, and Chris Whitmarsh, two women who run the Am Vet post 11 Ladies Auxiliary Wednesday lunch. Photo: David Sommerstein
Republican Matt Doheny poses with Carol Enslow, left, and Chris Whitmarsh, two women who run the Am Vet post 11 Ladies Auxiliary Wednesday lunch. Photo: David Sommerstein

Doheny builds campaign for NY-21, one fish fry at a time

Listen to this story
For the first time, the New York State primary will be on Tuesday, June 24, this year, months earlier than usual.

In the North Country's congressional district, it appears Democrat Aaron Woolf and the Green Party's Matt Funiciello will avoid primaries. The state board of elections invalidated the ballot petitions of both Democrat Stephen Burke and Green Party hopeful Donald Hassig. Burke continues to challenge the ruling.

But there will definitely be a Republican primary in the race to succeed retiring Congressman Bill Owens. And the early date is ratcheting up the pressure on candidates Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny when few voters are paying attention.

Hear this

Download audio

Share this


Explore this

Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

At a Doheny campaign stop this week at an Am Vet lunch and fish fry in St. Lawrence County, women are working the fryers in the kitchen. "We have fish. We have chicken wings," says Chris Whitmarsh as she adjusts her denim apron and dunks something called cordon bleu balls in the fryer. "People just love them."

The Am Vet Ladies Auxiliary serves lunch every Wednesday here in Dekalb. They say the fish fry is best because they bread it themselves. The farmers at the weekly livestock auction across the street come to chow down. "They're ready to eat when they come through the door," says Whitmarsh.

Enslow and Whitmarsh serves up the lunches and ideas about politics in the kitchen. Photo: David Sommerstein
Enslow and Whitmarsh serves up the lunches and ideas about politics in the kitchen. Photo: David Sommerstein
But in the meantime, Whitmarsh and Carol Enslow talk about issues as they wait for Matt Doheny to arrive. "I think the North Country needs help," Whitmarsh says. Enslow says school funding is a huge issue after she saw kids protesting cuts at the school in Brasher Falls on TV. "I said, those kids need those teachers. They need their activities and everything."

Neither woman is too thrilled with President Obama's health care rollout. But when asked what they look for in a candidate, they agree it's gut instinct more than anything else. "I don't vote for people I don't know," says Enslow. Whitmarsh adds, "we can only go by what they tell us and what we think of them, and hopefully our instincts are right when we do go in and vote for people."

That's why the two Republican candidates, Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny, are putting thousands of miles on their cars to reach every corner of the sprawling 21st Congressional district.

Photo: David Sommerstein
Photo: David Sommerstein
There are just two guys at the bar when Matt Doheny arrives, two more eating at tables. Doheny pumps hands and slaps backs all the same. He says there can be a handful or a hundred voters at these stops. For instance, at a spaghetti dinner in Natural Bridge, a tiny place near the Jefferson-Lewis county line, almost a hundred people came out.

This is Doheny's third bid for Congress. He lost twice to Democrat Bill Owens. And he says what people told him in Natural Bridge is typical, "the third time's a charm."

"They're not worried about all the political insider stuff. They want somebody from the North Country who understands the issues, that they have confidence in and can trust to do the job in Washington."

Doheny is making a big deal out of the fact that he grew up in Jefferson County, and that he's lived in the North Country much longer than Elise Stefanik or Democrat Aaron Woolf. Yet despite that local focus, he's been talking most about big national issues. He signed a pledge to not raise taxes. He signed another pledge against gun control laws. And he wants to repeal the health care law.

"We will also continue to talk about the issues on the ground. We'll talk about the river. We'll talk about Fort Drum. We'll talk about the Adirondacks' issues. But at the outset, we want to make sure people know where I stand on taxes, on health care, and guns is another issue we'll continue to focus on," says Doheny.

Doheny is trying to meet as many voters as possible before the primary election. Photo: David Sommerstein
Doheny is trying to meet as many voters as possible before the primary election. Photo: David Sommerstein
Doheny and Stefanik are sparring on these issues in increasingly bitter press releases. Take that no-tax pledge, the one championed by conservative hero Grover Norquist. Stefanik said she wouldn't sign a pledge from what she called "a Washington, D.C., special interest group." She said her only pledge to not raise taxes is to the district's voters.

Doheny shot back that Stefanik is "parroting the false talking points of President Obama" – harsh words for Republicans - and is leaving open the possibility of raising taxes.

The fact is, because of the early primary, these two candidates have just about six weeks to stand out to voters, even if the positions they take may split hairs. They want to reach people like Carol Enslow and Chris Whitmarsh, the ladies slinging plates of fish fry as farmers start to drift in.

Most voters will have to rely on media reports and a barrage of ads to make up their minds. But Enslow says showing up is what seals the deal, like her favorite local lawmaker does. "He always went around to different places. He'd always be in the parades and stuff. He's come right over and shake your hand."

Doheny and Stefanik will try to shake as many hands as possible before June 24th. At least in this kitchen, Doheny's name recognition gives him the upper hand. Both women voted for Doheny last time around.

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.