L. Jeffrey Stabins knows he's got his work cut out for him.
The possible Republican congressional candidate met Matthew A. Doheny, whom he may face in a 2012 primary, at a party Sunday night hosted by family friends. The family friends are big Doheny supporters, as are Mr. Stabins' parents themselves, whose lawn was specked with Mr. Doheny's yard signs during his failed 2010 bid.
As he left an interview with the Watertown Daily Times on Thursday, Mr. Stabins said that he didn't tell Mr. Doheny that he was planning a run for Congress. But he joked that he had at least a solid chance of getting one of his parents to vote for him.
"I've got an uphill battle," Mr. Stabins said.
Helping compound his challenges: He is a county commissioner in Florida (he was wearing a Hernando County polo shirt on Thursday). He hasn't lived in the north country since he was 27 — he's 51 now. And Mr. Doheny has much of the groundwork set for his run against incumbent Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, including years of talks with north country party officials who would help sway a Republican primary. Mr. Stabins, on the other hand, said that "all the guys I knew are dead."
While Mr. Stabins might not have a practical path to victory, he does have something of a plan, or perhaps better described, a vision. A self-described "middle of the road Republican," he bemoans the lack of compromise in Washington, D.C. and wants his party to start working again for the working class. He also explains away some of the recent controversies surrounding what some may consider eccentric behavior.
Skeptics in political circles have met Mr. Stabins' possible entry into the race with various degrees of eye-rolling. But he has been an elected official in the Sunshine State since 1992, announcing that he would step down from his county post sometime in the spring to concentrate on a possible north country run.
Mr. Stabins, who recently bought a house on Hill Street in Sackets Harbor, will spend the majority of his time in the north country, while traveling back to Florida to deal with budget deliberations, he said.
Because he's been engrossed in discussions about how to fix the county's finances, he said he isn't totally up to speed with pressing federal issues.
But he did announce one position that some quarters of the Republican Party consider apostasy: the possibility of raising taxes on the wealthy.
"I am embarrassed for the state of the Republican Party," Mr. Stabins said.
That political insiders are allowed to draw district lines, helping entrench incumbents and making districts more ideologically pure, has helped polarize Washington, Mr. Stabins said.
"I want to help reform the party to be a party of the working class," he said. Right now, it's dominated by special interests.
He dismissed criticisms that his recent behavior has been a bit off, described in reports from the St. Petersburg Times, whose coverage Mr. Stabins complains about.
The newspaper said he had broken out into song at board meetings. Just a friendly way to see off a retiring employee, Mr. Stabins said. He was wandering about the room during board meetings. But a medical condition makes him unable to sit still for too long; plus, he wants to walk up to constituents and chat before he votes.
He apologized for a note that he wrote explaining his absence that left some believing he was going to hurt himself, saying it was an inappropriate joke.
Mr. Stabins is an educator by trade, teaching special education classes from 1984 to 1987 in Watertown, Ogdensburg and Carthage before moving to Florida.
if he were to enter the race, he would almost certainly be in the same district as Mr. Doheny, a Watertown businessman. Less certain is whether Mr. Owens, the incumbent Democrat of Plattsburgh, would be in the same district.
Over the next few months, the state will redraw its political boundaries to account for shifts in population. The 23rd, stretching from Watertown to Plattsburgh, will have to gain more residents to meet the constitutionally-mandated number.
Mr. Owens and Mr. Doheny have been busy at events outside of the district. Mr. Doheny last week attended a GOP fundraiser in Onondaga County, which is not part of the 23rd Congressional District. And Mr. Owens visited the Remington factory in Herkimer County, also outside of the district.
"Some people may say: 'But Onondaga's not in the district!'" Mr. Doheny's spokesman, Jude R. Seymour, wrote in a Facebook post that accompanied pictures of the GOP event. "That's true. But we don't know how redistricting will shake out."