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Bill Owens, Matt Doheny agree: north country won’t split

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Democratic Rep. William L. Owens and Republican Matthew A. Doheny, putative rivals for Congress in November 2012, can agree on at least one thing: they don’t think the north country’s congressional seat will be split up because of redistricting.

“Certainly, anything is possible,” Mr. Owens said. “But if you think about the nature of the district, just its geographic size and the small number of people in many parts of it, we think that it’s unlikely that the district would be eliminated.”

The 23rd Congressional District spans from Madison County in the south, through Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties toward the north, then takes an eastward turn into Clinton County, snaking down, meanwhile, into Hamilton, Fulton and Essex counties. By the square mile, it’s the biggest of the state’s 29 congressional districts.

But because of relative population loss to other states, New York will have to eliminate two congressional districts. With split control of Albany — state government controls the redistricting process — it’s generally assumed that one Republican district will be eliminated and one Democratic district will be eliminated (essentially, chopped up into bits and fed to neighboring districts).

Conventional wisdom concluded that Democrats would eliminate the 9th Congressional District, home to former Rep. Anthony Weiner. Mr. Weiner, a New York City Democrat, resigned in disgrace after he admitted that he had inappropriate exchanges with women on Twitter.

Democrats assumed that they would win that seat and it was going to be eliminated, according to an article in Politico, an online publication. But a Republican, Bob Turner, beat David Weprin, a Democrat, in an upset victory on Sept. 13.

The Politico article concluded that Mr. Turner’s victory meant “chaos for N.Y. House members.” If not Mr. Weiner’s district, which Democrat would take the fall?

Said Mr. Owens: “That’s kept pretty tight down in Albany. We’re hearing a million rumors that have nothing of substance.”

Mr. Owens’s district must get bigger to meet constitutional minimums, by about 54,000 residents.

But he seems confident that his opponent will be Mr. Doheny, who lives in Watertown, the opposite end of the district.

Mr. Doheny does, too.

“There’s a difference between being in Albany, Rochester or even Syracuse, for that matter, versus the north country,” Mr. Doheny said. “We’re essentially a rural area here with common ties that I think will be continued and should be continued. Historically, there has been a north country seat. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have announced. There will be a north country seat. There’s a current congressman that needs to be replaced over in Plattsburgh.”

Mr. Owens, meanwhile, said he didn’t see any national harbingers in Mr. Turner’s victory in solidly Democratic Queens.

“I think that races are decided on the basis of the candidates and the circumstances of that time,” Mr. Owens said. “This was just an unusual set of circumstances.”

Indeed. The Sept. 13 vote was a special election in an off year, prompted by Mr. Weiner’s resignation.

Mr. Owens, too, won in a special election, providing a mirror image for Mr. Turner’s victory. In Mr. Owens’s case, in late 2009, Democrats trumpeted the victory as a sign that voters were supportive of President Barack Obama’s proposed health care overhaul, which Mr. Owens voted to approve shortly after taking office. Republicans cited special circumstances (a third-party firebrand who split the GOP vote) and a weak candidate (Dierdre K. Scozzafava, who dropped out and endorsed Mr. Owens) for that loss.

In this case, Republicans and conservatives have ascribed Mr. Turner’s victory to everything from Mr. Weprin’s vote in the state Assembly to approve gay marriage to what they consider weak support for Israel, and, most important, a perception that Mr. Obama has mishandled the economy.

Mr. Owens didn’t exactly buy into the conventional punditry.

Asked whether his victories in 2009 and 2010 also constituted an “unusual set of circumstances” a la Mr. Turner, Mr. Owens said with a laugh, “That would be fair to say. I do think, however, ultimately, the voters vote for people. It’s making sure that your message is clear and that you’re connecting with your constituents.”

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