Three-time Republican loser Matt Doheny is considering jumping into the race to succeed retiring Rep. Bill Owens (D., N.Y.) against the urging of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.
Owens, a two-term incumbent in New York’s 21st District, announced last week that he would retire. That prompted political analysts to declare the swing district—which voted for President Barack Obama in the past two elections—a toss-up.
Republican Elise Stefanik, a small businesswoman and former economic and domestic policy staffer for the George W. Bush administration, appears to be the early frontrunner for the GOP nomination after securing key endorsements, including from community and business leaders in the Upstate New York district, local county GOP committees, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.).
Capital New York reported last week that two-time Owens challenger Matt Doheny was “making calls around the district” to GOP county leaders to explore another run.
However, some local leaders expressed concerns that Doheny might be trying to jump in too late. And sources familiar with the district say Doheny has not received support from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the source added.
A wealthy investor, Doheny narrowly lost both the 2010 and 2012 elections to Owens. Ethical issues plagued his campaigns following the emergence of a string of unflattering reports, including two charges of boating under the influence during a two-week span in 2004 and two lawsuits in 2000 and 2005 for failing to pay rent on time for separate New York City apartments.
Photos in March 2012 also depicted Doheny kissing a campaign consultant while he was engaged to another woman. A subsequent video showed him groping the consultant.
Doheny did not return calls seeking comment.
Bill Teator, a political consultant who has worked with GOP lawmakers from the district, said in an interview that Stefanik’s campaign message of increased opportunity has resonated with local party committees in the mostly rural, historically Republican district.
“She and her family were afforded an opportunity, and that’s what she wants to see afforded to more people to maintain the quality of life,” Teator said. “That message is much more appealing and much more well received by the other constituents in the district as opposed to the Wall Street, big government alliance that we’ve seen too many times here.”
Owens’ campaign released successive ads in 2012 that spotlighted Doheny’s ties to high finance and negative reports about his character.
One ad portrayed Doheny as an out-of-touch Wall Streeter in “a tale of four islands”—naming a company he worked for in Manhattan, a company that utilized the Cayman Islands as a tax haven, and two islands he bought with his own personal wealth. Doheny was returning to one of those private islands when he received the charges of boating under the influence in 2004.
Another ad subtly encouraged voters to Google Doheny’s name, which would have produced reports about the eyebrow-raising photos and video at the time.
One of the sources familiar with the district said in an interview that the videos could come back to haunt Doheny if he were to run again this year.
“I’m not sure what has changed from then to now that would change that narrative or perception of Matt Doheny, which is why I’m not sure he would want to go through with this,” the source said.
Doheny is not the only Republican reportedly considering a challenge to Stefanik for the GOP nomination.
Tea Party leader and retired Army Maj. Joseph Gilbert and activist Michael Ring have also announced their candidacies, but neither has generated significant financial or grassroots support.
Stefanik has continued to seek endorsements ahead of the June primary. Doug Hoffman—the conservative former third-party candidate who challenged Doheny and Owens in 2010—told the Weekly Standard last week that he was endorsing Stefanik, a move that could align both Tea Party and moderate GOP support behind her.
Stefanik was the director of vice presidential debate prep for Ryan in the 2012 presidential election and also served as policy director for former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s (R., Minn.) presidential campaign and the 2012 Republican National Platform.
“I am excited about the overwhelming support I’ve continued to earn across the 21st District,” Stefanik said in an email statement. “I will continue to work hard on the campaign trail and focus on my positive message of bringing new ideas, new leadership, and fresh energy to represent New York’s North Country by uniting the Republicans, Conservatives, and Independents. No one will outwork me in this campaign.”