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Owens and Doheny need to change direction

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Once upon a time I ran for Congress. I didn’t win. I didn’t even get a chance to win because, in large part, I didn’t have $200,000 of my own money to commit to the race. That was the threshold entrance fee that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee set for someone to be a serious contender for the open seat to which I aspired. You either had to have that much of your own money to commit to the race, or have firm commitments from others to contribute at least that amount, or you were just dead meat.

I think that this is just wrong, fundamentally wrong. But that is the way the political game is now played. It’s all about the money. You’ve either got it, or you have to get it, or you are just not able to be considered.

It mattered not that I had spent the better part of a lifetime rolling the rock uphill for the Democratic Party and had the experience of working in the trenches of local and state government for many years.

They chose to go with an independently enrolled non-Democrat in the person of Bill Owens, a Plattsburgh attorney, who is personable and telegenic, but who had spent 62 years on this planet before deciding where his political allegiance lies. He did, however, have the financial wherewithal to commit his own funds to the race. If this sounds like sour grapes, it may be. It has taken a while for me to get over it, but I think I can see more clearly now. Hindsight is, after all, 20-20.

Ultimately, Owens turned out to be a smart choice. He won. But his victory was more due to Republican disarray and internal disagreement than any shining light, lead-the-way moments of brilliancy as a candidate. He even won a second term, in large part due to the same factors. Now comes the third try, and it will be a heavier lift.

This year, his Republican opponent is again Matt Doheny of Alexandria Bay, who has made millions as a Wall Street investment manager and decided it was time to publicly shine.

Doheny is a better candidate the second time around, and he is shining brightly, despite a few dim-bulb moments in Washington which threatened to put out his political lights.

Trouble is, he is conducting his campaign as an ardent ideologue in league with the “1 percent” Republicans. His salt-of-the-earth Irish roots in Alex Bay seem to have gotten lost in the shuffle of private islands and chi chi soirees. He is flying high politically because he has lost his conservative-nemesis tea party opponent, but he is still struggling to find his political everyman footing to appeal to a largely blue-collar north country constituency. Hope still abounds, but he needs to do some serious soul searching and agenda revisiting.

On the other side of the aisle, his as yet undistinguished opponent, Congressman Owens, is clearly not struggling enough to shed his own polenta-like essence and step into the role of an incumbent who is fighting to protect the rights of his 99 percenter constituency.

Running away from President Obama and the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., to me, did not either endear him to his base nor win him tea party-type support. Rethinking his approach should also be high on his list. Apparently, it is not, but as I said, hope springs eternal.

So, this election to determine who can best represent the new north country 21st Congressional District, sans Oswego County, will be one to watch. Perhaps the candidate who emerges as truest to himself and his constituents and free of the consultant choreographers and agenda setters will be victorious in the end.

So far, the realness of each candidate is getting lost in the north country woods. Time will tell which one finds his internal compass pointing to his true north.

The writer is a former mayor of Oswego and former resident of Sackets Harbor when he served as state assistant attorney general for the north country. He is currently teaching part-time at two Midwestern universities, Pittsburg State University and Missouri Southern State University. He resides in Saratoga Springs and Pittsburg, Kan.

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