The re-election of U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and the strong showing locally by President Obama and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., show that the region can no longer be presumed to be Republican territory simply because of voter enrollment advantage, candidates and party leaders said.
“If you look at the results today, I don’t know how Republican this 21st Congressional District is today,” Republican congressional candidate Matt Doheny said Tuesday evening in his concession speech in Watertown, according to a video of the speech posted on YNN.com.
Doheny, an investment fund manager from Watertown, carried Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties, but lost the overall vote in the new 21st District, which includes all or parts of 12 counties, stretching from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario.
Districtwide, Owens captured 50 percent of the vote and won by about 5,500 votes against Doheny, who received 48 percent of the vote, and Green Party candidate Donald Hassig, who received 2 percent.
Obama and Gillibrand both carried Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties.
“I think the simple thing is the Republican party has to regroup, has to sit down and decide what is important and what is not,” said Washington County Republican Chairman John Patterson on Wednesday.
Patterson said Doheny “certainly put the time and energy into the race,” but Republicans, as well as Democrats, may have failed at clearly defining the key issues.
“And in this instance, I think there may have been too much information instead of not enough — too much information about everything, about the personal side of what was going on with people and also what the issues were,” he said. “This was a relatively simple choice between people that became far more complicated.”
Patterson said incumbency probably was a factor in Owens’ stronger showing in the northeastern and western portions of the district, which he has represented for three years.
“We all know how difficult it is to defeat an incumbent for anything,” Patterson said.
Warren County Democratic Chairwoman Lynne Boecher said Owens will work hard to establish the same rapport with constituents in local counties, which were added to the district when boundary lines were redrawn.
“I think that he is measured and he is thoughtful and he is a gentleman,” she said.
Boecher said the financial resources that the Democratic State Assembly Campaign Committee put into local Assembly races shows that Democratic party leaders are taking this region seriously.
“Basically, it’s changed the landscape,” she said.
Owens, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, said he will reach out to constituents in Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties.
“I think that because it was all a new area, it takes a little while for people to get to know you,” he said.
Owens said he plans to open a district office in the Glens Falls region.
“We’ll be planning that out as we get into December,” he said.
Party leaders said it appeared some disgruntled Republicans, Democrats and independents voted for Hassig, even though the Green Party candidate endorsed Owens on Saturday.
Hassig received 3,638 votes, far more than the 894 registered Green Party members in the district.
“There are some genuine Green Party people around, but that may have been the refuge for those people that didn’t think they could vote for the Republican or the Democrat,” said Patterson, the Washington County Republican chairman.
In Warren County, 195 people voted for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, while 441 voted for Hassig.
In Washington County, 159 people voted for Stein, while 394 voted for Hassig.
“In many ways, the far left was not enamored with him (Owens) any more than the far right,” said Boecher, the Warren County Democratic chairwoman.
Owens said he suspects that some who voted for Hassig were frustrated with both major political parties.
“People, I think, are trying to send a message that they would like us to be a little more focused on a wide spectrum of issues,” he said. “But maybe more importantly they are saying that they want the members of Congress and the political parties to be responsive to the concerns of the people.”