The two Republicans running in New York’s 21st district Congressional race to replace retiring Democrat Bill Owens participated in their first primary debate Tuesday evening.
There was obvious animosity as Republicans Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny traded comments and barbs during the debate, broadcast on Time Warner Cable News, which is not available in all areas of the 21st district. Throughout the hour-long exchange, Doheny never uttered Stefanik’s name, referring to her in the third person or as “my challenger.” Although the moderator noted that neither candidate is a lifelong resident, both Republicans hammered each other over their residency and perceived nativeness to the district.
Stefanik: “My family’s owned a home since I was three years old in Willsboro. I learned to ride my bike. I learned to swim. I work there today and I plan on living here and raising my family here.”
Doheny: “I grew up in the district. Did I spend a little time away working? Yeah and that’s part of why I want to run to run for Congress, to make sure that anyone who wants to stay here for their entire life can do it. I think it’s a crucial issue.”
Stefanik: “I don’t hold it against you that you were born in New Jersey, Matt.”
The claws came out several times over the course of the debate. One particularly caustic exchange came after a panelist asked about a no tax pledge that Doheny has signed, but Stefanik has refused.
Doheny: “For anyone who wants to represent the Republican party in a national election, for that person to say that I’m not going to promise almost precludes them from being the nominee.”
Stefanik: “I think this is an example where I will be an independent voice on behalf of this district. Matt’s the one signing pledges to Washington D.C. special interest groups. I’m not.”
Doheny: “This is a pledge to the voters. And if you cared enough to actually live up to your word you’d have no problem signing it.”
At one point, the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions. Stefanik took the opportunity to eviscerate Doheny over a campaign mailer.
Stefanik: “Are you proud that you filled Republican primary voters’ mailboxes with untruthful statements attacking my public service experience?”
Doheny: “Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Stefanik: “Your own hometown newspaper said that the statements were untruthful. Are you proud of lying to say that I support bail outs when I don’t support bail outs?”
Doheny: “I am proud of the race we are running right now. That’s just the reality of it all.”
The candidates were asked if they would refrain from negative personal attacks. While they both initially agreed, the conversation quickly devolved into negative attacks.
Doheny: “Lets keep it clean, but let’s talk about my opponent has D.C. insiders that are funding her campaign through a SuperPAC.”
Stefanik: “This is a classic example of Washington double-speak. Matt Doheny is the only candidate who has been filling Republican primary voters’ mailboxes with untruthful personal attacks on my public record. I’m the only candidate who has run a positive campaign. I have no control over outside groups.”
Doheny: “I find it remarkable that my opponent who went out to Aspen, Colorado for an elite Republican donor weekend. I’m sure it’s part of your D.C. insider crowd.”
Stefanik: “You had significant outside support in your previous runs for Congress, Matt, and you failed multiple times to win back this seat.”
The candidates did agree on several items including a need to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, addressing the heroin addiction crisis, and concerns over economic growth. The debate was recorded in Watertown and moderated by Liz Benjamin. Stefanik, a former George W. Bush White House aide, is seeking office for the first time. Doheny lost two close races to Owens. The Democrat in the race is filmmaker Aaron Woolf.
Audio is courtesy of Time Warner Cable News.