23rd Congressional District = 21st Congressional District: Owens Faces Some New GOP Voters


With a few more Republican voters for his newly designed district, U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, is running for his second term inCongress in November.

Owens has represented the former 23rd Congressional District since 2009. In April 2012, it becomes the 21st Congressional District, losing Madison and Oswego counties. The new district is slightly more Republican, but his campaign downplays the danger for Owens’ re-election.

“I think Bill will do well in the new district,” said Sean Magers, press secretary to Owens. “He’s a strong candidate and the new boundaries have only added to his outreach.”

As of April 13, Owens had two challengers, Matt Doheny and Kelly Greene, both vying for the Republican nomination. The two GOP candidates will face each other in a primary on June 26. The winner will challenge Owens in the general election on Nov. 6.

The former 23rd Congressional District was more than 14,000 square miles stretching from the Canadian border, eastward to Vermont and southward to just above Onondaga County. It included the counties of Clinton, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego, Madison and St. Lawrence; and parts of Essex, Fulton and Oneida Counties.

The newly designed 21st Congressional District lost Oswego and Madison Counties. It now includes Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton and Hamilton Counties and portions of Oneida, Fulton and Essex counties.  The new district includes all of northern New York bording the most of the state of Vermont, all of the border with Quebec and the section of Ontario separated by the St. Lawrence River. It is predominantly Republican, with 40 percent of voters — or 158,000– registered for the GOP and 33 percent — or 128,000– registered as Democrats.

The Congressional districts were reshaped because the U.S. Constitution requires that congressional and state legislative district boundaries be redrawn every ten years to reflect population shifts detected by the federal census. In New York, the redistricting was started by the state’s Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment. But in March, a federal judge stepped in to finish the boundaries after much partisan dispute.

For the new 21st Congressional District, the change was pretty subtle, said Grant Reeher, a Syracuse University political scientist.

“All they did was make it bigger,” said Reeher.  “What’s more important is looking at how Owens is still winning in a highly Republican district to begin with.” Owens, he said, has won over many GOP voters in the old district by being a moderate Democrat. But new voters may not see that distinction, Reeher said. “And he may have a tougher time because he doesn’t know them,” Reeher said.

Mark Monmonier, another SU political scientist, agreed.  And Owens’ voting record could play a major role in running an effective campaign, he added.

“Owen’s reelection will depend  in part on his  ability in the last four years to have earned the trust of the moderate Republicans in his district and appealing to the new Republicans he doesn’t know,” Monmonier said. “Those new additions could prove to be difficult because they see Owens as a Democrat and he may have a tougher time because he doesn’t know them.”

In fundraising, Owens is far ahead of his rivals. As of mid-April, he had raised slightly more than $1 million, according to records of the Federal Election Commission. That compares to $495,000 raised by Doheny and $3,545 for Kellie Greene.

Here are some snapshots of the candidates for the new district:

Bill Owens (Incumbent, Democrat)

In 2009, Owens was appointed to fill the 23rd Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican John McHugh, who became the secretary of the Army. Owens was managing partner at the law firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, & Trombley and has practiced law for 30 years. Owens  has worked to encourage business opportunities for the state and for Upstate New Yorkers, said Owens’ press secretary Sean Magers.

“In his new term Owens plans to tackle jobs and has made local job creation his top priority,” Magers added.

Matt Doheny (Challenger, Republican)

Doheny was born and raised in the St. Lawrence River-area and lives there with his family.  Doheny was a practicing attorney before leaving law to pursue a career in business.  Doheny is looking to winecure the Republican,Independence and Conservative parties’ endorsements and wants to return the seat to Republicans, said deputy campaign manager Jude Seymour.

“Nothing has changed in the last two years  and we feel confident that Matt will succeed because people want change,” Seymour said.

Kellie Greene (Challenger, Republican)

Kellie Greene was born and raised in Oswego, N.Y. She holds several college degrees and said she plans to focus on local governmental issues, the economy and unemployment.

(Sistina Giordano is a graduate student majoring in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)


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