Former Congressional candidate Matt Doheny announced on Friday that he was endorsing Elise Stefanik, his opponent in the Republican primary, in the race to replace outgoing Congressman Bill Owens. November's election will see Stefanik facing Democratic candidate Aaron Woolf and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello.
WATERTOWN — Matt Doheny has endorsed Elise Stefanik in the race for New York’s 21st Congressional District.
Speaking to reporters outside of his Watertown office on Friday morning, Doheny encouraged his supporters to “give Elise a chance,” according to the Watertown Daily Times.
The former candidate said he would make himself to available to the campaign in any way it feels is appropriate, reported the Times.
Doheny’s announcement came after a month-long retreat from the public eye since losing the primary on June 24 to Stefanik, a former Bush aide and small businesswoman who lives in Willsboro.
Stefanik thanked Doheny in a statement following Doheny’s endorsement.
“Matt waged a hard-fought primary and we respect and appreciate his decision to give Republicans their best opportunity to win back our seat for the North Country,” she said. “Now is the time to unite not just Republicans, but members of the Independence Party and Democrats interested in bringing new ideas and a new generation of leadership to Washington on behalf of New York’s 21st Congressional District."
Stefanik won all 12 counties in June’s primary — some by single-digits once absentee ballots were tallied — with about 15 percent of the Republican electorate handing her 61 percent of the vote.
The announcement ended speculation that Doheny would pursue a path forward using the Independence Party ballot line he secured earlier this spring, an option that observers said would have made a Republican pick-up of the seat, which has been held by Democrat Bill Owens since 2009, less likely.
Doheny’s announcement caught Essex County Republican Vice Chair Win Belanger, a Willsboro-based advisor to Stefanik, off-guard. He told the Valley News earlier that morning that he didn’t anticipate an endorsement.
“Elise is here in Willsboro now and we haven’t heard anything,” he said.
"It was very gracious,” said Chairman Ron Jackson after the announcement. “It must have been a very emotional thing for him.”
Jackson said the American Crossroads advertisements must have stung — “especially coming from a Republican and not a Democrat,” he said, referring to the $772,000 in negative ad buys purchased during the last three weeks of the race that Doheny later blamed on his loss.
“But those were just rehashes of Owens’ ads from the last race,” he added.
Jackson commended Doheny for putting party first and looking at the bigger picture:
“I'm sure it wasn't easy,” he said.
“Doheny did the right thing,” Franklin County Republican Chair Ray Scollin said on Twitter. “His endorsement will further unite the GOP.”
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden applauded Doheny’s decision:
“Throughout his career, Matt Doheny has always done what is best for the North Country," wrote Walden in a statement. "Today he continued to do so by helping to ensure that Republican Elise Stefanik will be able to fight for North Country families in Congress.”
Doheny’s decision ensures a three-way race between Democrat Aaron Woolf and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello as each campaign pivots to general election mode.
Following June's contentious primary, the race has been muted throughout summer. Official campaign events have been limited, with scattered jobs tours — Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake for Woolf, Willsboro for Stefanik — paired with carefully orchestrated media events.
The campaigns have also waged limited war through the press.
Trial potshots have included lobbing bombs that have gained little traction, including attacks on congressional perks and debating the Export-Import Bank, a little-known federal office until Congressman Kevin McCarthy announced shortly after his election as House Majority Leader last month that he would oppose the reauthorization this September.
On the financial front, Aaron Woolf leads the pack with $750,000 cash on-hand as of June 30, raising nearly $575,000 since April 1.
Woolf, a filmmaker and small businessman who lives in Elizabethtown, has donated $400,000 of his own money to his campaign since he entered the race in February.
Stefanik raised nearly $310,000 since April 1 while Funiciello reported $5,314 in donations from 70 donors, all of whom but one kicked in $250 or less.
Woolf campaign manager Stuart Rosenberg said the candidate will stay focused on what he's been doing since he announced his bid in February, speaking with voters about job creation and growing the North Country's economy.
“He'll fight to reform the tax system so billionaires no longer have lower rates than most middle class Americans, and he will protect Social Security and Medicare, opposing any effort to privatize it," said Rosenberg in an email. "If elected, he will not accept taxpayer-funded Congressional perks because our Congressional representatives should live by the same rules as their constituents.”
Funiciello, whose campaign has been gaining traction despite a significant financial disadvantage, said he thought the endorsement boded well for his prospects.
“There are a lot of disgusted Democratic and Republican voters looking for a candidate who is local and not being funded by corporate money,” he said when reached by phone on Friday afternoon.
The Glens Falls-based baker, who has structured his campaign around ending corporate welfare, establishing single-payer health care and an increase in the minimum wage, cited positive interactions with voters in Old Forge and Hague and said he can peel undecided right-leaning voters away from the GOP.
“A Republican voter won't find much in the Democratic candidate that they agree with,” he said. “But they’re quite receptive to the Green message — we’re fairly conservative in our thought process, just socially liberal."