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The GOP candidates Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny will face off in a primary on June 24. Photo courtesy Mountain Lake PBS
The GOP candidates Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny will face off in a primary on June 24. Photo courtesy Mountain Lake PBS

Stefanik, Doheny trade barbs, share policies in Watertown debate

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The clock is ticking for Republican Congressional candidates Matt Doheny and Elise Stefanik. Primary voters will make their choice between the two June 24. Both campaigns are airing attacks ads as the Republican primary draws closer.

Doheny and Stefanik faced off at a debate in Watertown yesterday. Despite the vitriolic ads, the debate was mostly friendly, and the two candidates agreed on most issues.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

Matt Doheny and Elise Stefanik are pretty much in the same camp when it comes to federal policy.

They agree on healthcare. Stefanik says, “I don’t support Obamacare. I stand by the full repeal of Obamacare.”  Doheny says, “ Obamacare is not the answer.”

Both candidates are pro-gun, pro-medical marijuana and anti-Common Core. And they’ve both milked a cow.

But Doheny and Stefanik differ on two major North Country issues: the rooftop highway and border security.

Doheny supports the rooftop highway: ”As someone who’s spent a lot of time on Route 11 going from Watertown to all the stops way over through Plattsburgh, it’s got to be improved.”

Elise Stefanik doesn’t support the highway. She says instead, the North Country should improve its existing infrastructure, like rail, roads, waterways and sewers.

The panel (left to right): David Sommerstein, NCPR; Thom Hallock, Mountain Lake PBS; Jeff Cole, WWNY. Photo courtesy Mountain Lake PBS
The panel (left to right): David Sommerstein, NCPR; Thom Hallock, Mountain Lake PBS; Jeff Cole, WWNY. Photo courtesy Mountain Lake PBS
“But there’s also other pieces to infrastructure, like broadband. We need to ensure that our rural communities have that last mile of broadband coverage. We also need to promote cell phone coverage,” Stefanik siad.

Stefanik and Doheny also differed on traffic flow across the border with Canada. Stefanik says the North Country has struck the right balance between security and commerce.

Doheny, who grew up on the St. Lawrence River, said border security has gone too far. “It’s a little too tight,” he said.

WWNY-TV checks sound and shots before yesterday's debate. Phtoto: Martha Foley
WWNY-TV checks sound and shots before yesterday's debate. Phtoto: Martha Foley
Doheny and Stefanik traded barbs as they discussed the 2008 government bailout. They accused each other of being complicit in the bailouts: he on Wall Street, she while working for the White House.

“This is D.C.double-speak,” Doheny charged.  “She was there but she didn’t believe in it... I mean time and time again.”

Stefanik defended her work in the Bush Administration, and shot back, “Were you not on Wall Street? You were on Wall Street!"

Doheny repeatedly challenged whether Stefanik, who’s worked in politics since graduating from college, could really call herself a small businessperson. In the one direct question he was allowed to ask her, he pressed her again.

“You’re 29. You’ve worked in the Bush White House. You’ve worked in a neo-conservative think tank. You’ve worked on your own blog and you’ve worked on presidential campaigns. I just want people to understand — how can you call yourself a small businesswoman?"

And she repeated a theme she’d sounded again and again, replying, “Because I grew up in a small business. When I was a kid I watched my parents risk every dollar they had to start our family business. So yes, our business experience differs, but I believe growing up in a small business based in upstate New York, dealing with small business customers throughout the 21st district, gives me a better understanding of what our economic challenges are on the ground."

But Doheny says he’s the one who will bring jobs to the North Country. “I have a proven record of success, look, I’m a self-made businessman. I understand how hard it is to create, save and maintain jobs. It’s what i’ve done in my career.”

In the last few minutes, the candidates went into a lightning round, answering questions on policy—and sports team loyalties. 

"In hockey, St. Lawrence or Clarkson?" NCPR's David Sommerstein asked. Both waffled, until Doheny chose St. Lawrence because he'd attended its hockey camp as a kid. But he laughingly begged Clarkson president Tony Collins not to judge too harshly. 

The Republican primary is coming up on June 24. The winner will face Democratic candidate Aaron Wolf and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello in the general election this fall.

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