Poll results released this week are a wake-up call for congressional candidate Matt Doheny and especially the Republican Party.
The GOP candidate in the 21st Congressional District trails Democratic incumbent William L. Owens by 13 percentage points, according to a Siena College Research Institute poll that has Rep. Owens favored by 49 percent of the voters to 36 percent for Mr. Doheny.
The Doheny campaign discounts the lead, given the timing of the survey taken during the hoopla of the Democratic National Convention. However, that cannot explain away the poll numbers showing Rep. Owens with double-digit leads over Mr. Doheny in practically every category not only districtwide but most troubling, here in the north country.
On the east side of the Northern New York district, Mr. Doheny is holding his own. But poll numbers on the west side are terrible. With his roots in Jefferson County, Mr. Doheny would be expected to enjoy a lead in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties over Rep. Owens, who is from Plattsburgh in Clinton County. That is not the case eight weeks away from the election. Sixty percent of the respondents in the tricounty region backed the incumbent compared to 32 percent for Mr. Doheny. The challenger, though, holds a four percentage point edge over Mr. Owens in the newest part of the reconfigured district Fulton, Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties.
Northern New Yorkers also tended to view Rep. Owens more favorably than Mr. Doheny. It is surprising that the poll is showing such weakness on the part of a candidate from this part of the district.
The lead held by Rep. Owens is not insurmountable. But Mr. Doheny has to be more aggressive in the remaining weeks to convince north country voters that their interests are best represented by someone from the west side of the district. Mr. Doheny has to show that he will be more responsive to their concerns about water levels and Fort Drum than has Mr. Owens, who avoided taking a position on water levels until the final lines of the congressional district were drawn. Mr. Owens also called for more study rather than an outright endorsement of potential plans to establish a missile defense base at Fort Drum.
A wait-and-see approach to such important issues is not what the north country needs. When opportunities arise, Northern New Yorks representative must signal the communitys readiness to move forward. When challenges present themselves, he must know what is best for the region and act instinctively in its interests.
To gain ground in the race, Mr. Doheny needs to express more clearly how he is going to help the people of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.
And the Republican Party needs to articulate to the voters that the north country is best represented by someone who is from this side of the district.