MASSENA - Republican leaders in St. Lawrence County agree Matthew M. Dohenys entry into the 21st Congressional District is a welcome addition to the field as long as he doesnt divide the ticket.
Mr. Doheny, who lost by small margins to outgoing U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, in 2010 and 2012, announced his candidacy for the congressional seat Wednesday. He will face off with Republican Elise M. Stefanik, Willsboro, and tea party candidate Joseph M. Gilbert, DeKalb Junction, in the June 25 Republican primary.
Mr. Owens is not seeking reelection.
In 2012, Mr. Doheny took home 12,562 Republican votes, 1,609 Conservative votes and 468 independent votes in St. Lawrence County, losing the county to Mr. Owens, who garnered a total of 20,816 votes.
St. Lawrence County Republican Committee Chairman Thomas L. Jenison said that although the Republicans county chairs have officially come out in support of Ms. Stefanik there is still room for Mr. Doheny on the field.
Mr. Jenison said local Republican party chairs will be able to decide whether to carry each candidates petitions in their communties.
Its going to be an interesting few weeks, Mr. Jenison said.
Regardless of the timing of the announcement, which Mr. Jenison said he doesnt understand, he believes Mr. Doheny is a strong candidate.
Im interested in seeing and hearing what different platforms changes he has from two years ago, if any, Mr. Jenison said. He has a lot of name recognition and he knows a lot of people. It will be interesting to see the differences are between the candidates. No one is going to drop out.
Ogdensburg Mayor William D. Nelson, a Republican, said, Matt obviously knows the district. He knows the people; he knows the issues.
In the last election, Mr. Nelson said, he literally traversed every town, every village, every city in the district. Hes kept abreast of issues facing Ogdensburg. I think hell be a good candidate.
Mr. Nelson said Mr. Doheny, a native of Jefferson County and current resident of Watertown, made an effort in his previous campaigns to talk with stakeholders in the area to understand their needs.
This is his district, and he made sure that he was aware of the issues that were facing in north country, Mr. Nelson said.
Those views were echoed by St. Lawrence County Conservative Party Chairman Henry R. Ford, who said Mr. Dohenys entrance into the race is a good decision. I think Matt would do a fantastic job if he can make it. He certainly is a hard worker and he, as far as Im concerned, should have won in the last race.
The county Conservative Party endorsed Mr. Doheny in 2012.
Mr. Ford wouldnt say whether the party is leaning in that direction again this time around, but he said committee members will be meeting with all the candidates on March 9 to hear their views and make a decision about who to support.
I want to give each candidate an equal opportunity to come and be interviewed by the committee, he said.
Massena Mayor James F. Hidy also said Mr. Doheny is a welcome addition to the race.
I think it is welcome news in light of the fact Congress is in such disarray to begin with, Mr. Hidy said. I think Matt Doheny has an excellent shot of winning the seat for the 21st district.
When asked what he thought of the timing of Mr. Dohenys announcement, Mr. Hidy said he believes Mr. Doheny was simply being cautious before entering the race.
Im thinking he was waiting to see would be in the race, he said.
Mr. Hidy said Mr. Doheny brings with him name recognition to the race that none of the other candidates have.
I think he has a very strong presence. He nearly defeated Bill Owens on two occasions, and I think that shows people have a lot of confidence in Matt, he said.
Mr. Hidy also said it would be nice to have a congressman from the area.
Matt is a north country person, having been born and raised in Alex Bay. He understands the plight of the region, and I think having a member of Congress from our area would be a very good thing.
However, although Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said he hopes to see the party support whomever wins in the primary, he said Mr. Dohenys decision could cannibalize votes.
When you announce your candidacy like this you certainly run the risk of alienating people who have been supportive of you in the past. We have known for at least a month that Bill Owens wasnt running again. What were you waiting for? Mr. Gray asked rhetorically.
Regardless of how the primary shakes out, Mr. Gray said, the important thing is that come November the regions Republicans are united.
The most important thing for Republicans is to make sure we get behind whomever emerges in the primary and make sure that people who are Republicans are not running on third party lines.
Mr. Gray, a former county GOP chairman who currently serves on Massenas Republican Committee, said he was at the meeting when county party leaders offered their support to Ms. Stefanik.
She was very impressive, he said.
Mr. Gray said Wednesday afternoon that he had not yet spoken with Mr. Doheny, but was planning to call him later that evening.
One of the things Ill tell him when I speak with him later tonight is he needs to be cognizant of voter fatigue, Mr. Gray said. While strategically now might be the best time for him to run, politically it may not be the best move.
As far as Mr. Jenison is concerned, may the best candidate win.
We just have to let them figure things out themselves, he said. Whoever is out more and talking to more people will take the primary and ultimately win in November.
Staff writer Benny Fairchild contributed to this report.