PLATTSBURGH - Bill Owens has declared victory in the race to represent New York's 23rd District, and Matt Doheny has conceded.
With every precinct in the 11-county district save one in Jefferson and one in Oneida County reporting results early Wednesday morning, incumbent Rep. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, had 76,204 votes, or 48 percent compared to 72,435, or 46 percent, for the Watertown Republican Doheny. Doug Hoffman of Saranac Lake got the remaining 6 percent, or 9,536. Hoffman's name was on the ballot on the Conservative line, but he suspended his campaign a month before and told his supporters to vote for Doheny.
Owens gave a victory speech to a roomful of cheering supporters at the American Legion on Quarry Road around 12:15 a.m. Wednesday. He said his agenda for the next two years would be, "to your great surprise, to bring more jobs to the North Country," referencing a common theme of his campaign.
Bill Owens speaks at the American Legion hall in Plattsburgh on election night.
(Enterprise photo - Nathan Brown)
More than 13,000 absentee ballots were sent out - more than Owens' 4,000-vote lead - but Owens told reporters after his speech he was confident he had won, saying absentee ballots historically trend similarly to election night results.
In his concession speech at the Italian-American Club in Watertown, Doheny told his supporters that he had congratulated Owens and offered to help him.
"At this point, for the sake of the country, we need to make sure we realize there is one congressman in the 23rd," Doheny said.
But Owens won't be in the majority anymore; the Republicans have picked up about 50 seats in the House of Representatives, giving them a narrow majority.
"I'm confident that I can work with Republicans, just like I've been doing around here for 33 years," Owens said in his speech.
As far as the implications of working in a Republican-controlled Congress, Owens told reporters he thought it would depend on the "internal politics" of the GOP. He said "mainstream Republicans" might break with their more conservative colleagues to work with moderate Democrats, which Owens has always said he is. Owens said he hadn't yet decided whether he would support Republican Minority Leader John Boehner, who will likely run for speaker when his party takes control of the House in January.
Speaking when more preliminary results were in, Clinton County Democratic Party Chairman Marty Mannix attributed Owens' win to staying on message about job creation and to running a positive campaign.
"He did extremely well in areas we would have thought Doheny was expected to do well," such as St. Lawrence County, Mannix said.
Mannix attributed Hoffman's 6 percent to anger among Hoffman supporters at the way he was treated. Mannix said the Upstate New York Tea Party, which endorsed Hoffman in the GOP primary, "threw him under the bus" after Doheny narrowly won the primary. UNYTEA Chairman Mark Barie, who did not immediately return a telephone message early Wednesday, switched to support Doheny after the primary, and the group's Steering Committee ended up following suit.
"He (Hoffman) had a very loyal base, and I think his base was extremely upset with how it was handled after the primary," Mannix said.
With Owens' margin of victory at less than 3 percent, Hoffman's 6 percent rankled Doheny's supporters, who viewed the accountant as a spoiler.
"Last year, when Dede (Scozzafava) dropped out, I supported Hoffman," said Jefferson County Republican Party Chairman Donald G.M. Coon III. "Hoffman didn't afford us the same courtesy. It's very clear that, once again, Bill Owens was elected without a majority and once again the name attached to that is Doug Hoffman."
Coon said he met with Hoffman in February and was told that "he'd do anything it took to get Bill Owens out of office. It's clear that that wasn't true," Coon said. "I believed Doug Hoffman was an honorable man, but Doug Hoffman is not an honorable man."
Doheny and Hoffman were separated by about 600 votes on Primary Night, and Hoffman said on Sept. 23 he would stay in the race on the Conservative line, after the absentee ballots were counted and Doheny officially won the primary. Facing a loss of tea party support and a lack of campaign funds, Hoffman suspended his campaign on Oct. 5.
Doheny got more votes than Owens in Fulton, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida and Oswego counties, but Owens made up these deficits with big wins in Clinton, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties. Owens edged Doheny by 123 votes in the portion of Essex County in the district.
Watertown Daily Times Staff Writer Brian Kelly contributed to this report from Watertown.