The race for New York’s 21st Congressional district is far from settled, despite the fact that both parties have already endorsed candidates. Former two-time candidate Matt Doheny announced his bid this morning, the third Republican in the primary.
Earlier this month, 11 of the 12 Republican county chairs endorsed Elise Stefanik of Willsboro in the race for the seat being vacated by Democrat Bill Owens, who announced in January he was retiring after five years in office. Wednesday morning, Republican Matt Doheny announced he is entering the race. Doheny has run for the position twice, narrowly losing to Owens by just under 2,000 votes in 2010 in the 16,000 square mile district. Doheny says he and his family retreated to the private sector after those losses but reevaluated after Owens announcement to leave Congress. “Running against an incumbent, which obviously I did twice, is just a far, far different experience that running in an open seat in a lot of ways. First of all, Bill Owens was a quite popular cross-over Congressman, lot of Republican support. So in terms of the challenge for myself, having an open seat really makes it a different race altogether.”
Elise Stefanik was campaigning and issued a statement upon hearing of Doheny’s entry. Her email says: “I first entered this race when it was toughest - against a third-term incumbent...Over the past year, I have crisscrossed the district and worked hard to build grassroots support...I welcome the new candidates to this race and look forward to a robust discussion on the issues.”
Republican county chairs are not entirely pleased with this turn of events. Franklin County Republican Committee Chair Ray Scollin wishes Doheny had gone through the endorsement process. “I think the biggest question almost all of the chairs are going to have in the 21st for Matt is: When incumbent Bill Owens was still in the race, Stefanik was out there doing the hard work. She knew she was up against a third term incumbent. She was doing the hard work of going around and meeting the grassroots Republicans and town and county committees, as well as local business leaders and elected officials throughout the district. I think that’s the kind of hard work we’re going to expect from any future representatives in Washington.”
Clinton County Republican Chair Don Lee had hoped to avoid a primary. “We tried this time to not spend or waste the taxpayers money with a frivolous primary. The candidates have to spend money fighting within their party, where they actually should spend money participating against their opponents in the other party.”
But Doheny notes there would have been a primary regardless of what he does because Joe Gilbert, who lost the Republican endorsement to Stefanik, stayed in the race. “We’re just giving the voters an option”
SUNY Plattsburgh Professor of Political Science Tom Konda doesn’t see much difference between Stefanik and Doheny, but right now gives the advantage to Stefanik.. “In part because a lot of times if somebody jumps into the race last, people will sometimes hold that against them as they’re the person who made things difficult. She was there early. She made that commitment and I think a lot of people will feel that now he’s just jumping in trying to capitalize.”
Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School Grant Reeher says 21st district Republicans must deal with a deja vu situation. “Matt Doheny and Elise Stefanik are going to end up having to define themselves and also try to define each other in terms of the split in the Republican party that’s been going on nationally. I think that’s going to hurt them as it’s hurt them in the past.”
The Watertown Daily Times is reporting that former Democratic state Senator Darrel Aubertine said he is still considering a run for the seat. The newspaper said Aubertine would not elaborate on his thoughts.