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Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny are vying for the Republican line in the 21st Congressional district.
Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny are vying for the Republican line in the 21st Congressional district.

NY-21: Stefanik, Doheny vie for North Country roots in first debate

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The two Republicans seeking to represent the North Country in Congress came out swinging Tuesday night in their first debate before the June 24 primary. The one-hour debate was broadcast on Time-Warner Cable and taped in Albany.

Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny carved out few differences on policy. But they disagreed sharply on what's become the defining issue in this campaign - who can claim the deepest North Country roots.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

If you want evidence of what this first debate was about, look no further than the first words to come out of the candidates' mouths.

"My name is Elise Stefanik, and I am proud to say that I was born and raised in Upstate New York."

"I'm Matt Doheny. I'm from the North Country. My wife and I are raising our family in Watertown."

The debate centered on the big question in this campaign - who's more North Country?

On the issues, Doheny and Stefanik largely agreed, diverging only slightly on specifics.

They'd both repeal President Obama's health care law. Stefanik gave a more detailed answer in offering an alternative while sticking to the main GOP talking points.

"Pursuing tort reform, to help lower the costs of health care today. Giving individuals the same tax incentives that small businesses have, and allowing small businesses to pool together in high risk insurance pools," said Stefanik.

On job creation, both candidates called for cutting taxes and reducing regulations. But Doheny offered more specifics on infrastructure, like highway and sewer upgrades.

"But also 21st century infrastructure in terms of telecommunications," Doheny said. "There are parts of this district that don't have cell phone coverage. On my watch, I will do everything I can to make sure we have cell phone coverage and broadband."

Both candidates want to cut federal spending, but not defense or veterans' care. And they want more funding for Fort Drum.

There were a couple key differences: Stefanik said she's against the new infrastructure of a rooftop highway between Watertown and Plattsburgh; Doheny is for it.

Doheny said abortion is a woman's "personal choice"; Stefanik is against abortion, except in the case of rape or incest.

There was little discussion of local issues. The St. Lawrence Seaway and the Adirondacks were barely mentioned at all.

But the debate circled back several times to the issue of residency.

Elise Stefanik moved from Washington, DC to her family's summer home of Willsboro in Essex County last year. Critics accuse her of being a carpetbagger.

Doheny lives in Watertown with his wife and infant son now. But he was decried as the carpetbagger when he first ran for this seat five years ago, a Wall Street mogul who had left behind his Alexandria Bay roots.

The two sparred sharply during this exchange when Stefanik accused Doheny of falsely stating in mailers that she supported the 2008 bank bailout bill because she worked in the George W. Bush White House.

Stefanik: Your own hometown newspaper said that the statements weren't truthful.

Doheny: Again, it's very much truthful. It's 100 percent accurate. The reality is you didn't grow up in this district here.

S: Are you proud of lying, saying I supported bailouts when I don't support bailouts?

D: Can I finish? I'm proud of the race. We're telling the truth, which is your record.

S: Here's the difference. I'm running a positive campaign focused on the issues. My opponent offers nothing more than negative mudslinging.

The Democratic and Green party candidates in this race weren't invited to this debate because only these Republicans face a primary election on June 24th.

But as the cycle spins towards November, the residency issue will linger. Democrat Aaron Woolf moved from New York City to his family's summer home of Elizabethtown to run for this seat that Congressman Bill Owens is retiring from.

Only Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello has long-standing residency. He's owned and operated Rock Hill Bake House in Glens Falls for 25 years.

You can watch a replay of the entire debate here.

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