The two major party candidates met for the last debate in the North Country's Congressional race last night in Watertown. Incumbent Democrat Bill Owens and Republican Matt Doheny sparred on well-trodden ground, like tax cuts, the deficit, and Medicare. They also differed, sharply at times, on a range of other issues.
Last night's debate at Jefferson Community College stuck to familiar territory on economic issues. Matt Doheny attacked early and aggressively, criticizing Bill Owens’ support of a tax hike on the rich.
"Why on earth would we want to go ahead and raise taxes at the exact moment when we in the North Country are facing almost 10 percent unemployment?" Doheny asked.
Owens stuck to the centrist approach he's favored since becoming a congressman in 2009. "We are going to have to both cut and have increased revenue," Owens said.
With Fort Drum just down the road, military issues took center stage. The candidates agreed on the 2014 troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. But they differed on how to approach Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Owens preached against combat in Iran.
"We have done our duty on Afghanistan and Iraq more than a hundred fold," Owens said. "Many of the brave folks who have done that, lived it, bled it are sitting out at Fort Drum. I think it would be a mistake to move in that direction without exhausting every other alternative available to us."
Doheny took a more hawkish tone.
"Iran having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for our security," Doheny said. "It’s unacceptable for our biggest ally and friend in the idle East, Israel. And that has to be taken seriously, and all options have to be on the table."
Doheny attacked Owens for supporting President Barack Obama’s half a trillion dollars in defense cuts over ten years. The Republican said that could hurt Fort Drum. Owens touted 400 million in military construction he funneled to the base and a plan to bring a new drone mission to Fort Drum.
One interesting exchange came not over the military, but rather administering drug tests to welfare recipients, which Matt Doheny said he supports.
"When that safety net turns into a hammock, we need to go ahead and change, where you see generation after generation get locked into a cycle of poverty, we have to stop that," Doheny said.
Owens said in other states, a very low rate of positive tests makes the program not worthwhile. And he took a jab of his own at Doheny.
"He indicated he wasn’t sure what he would do with the results, so what that sounds like to me is, I want to do something, spend some money, but I don’t know what to do with the results," Owens said.
A yes-or-no lightning round provided some light moments, like when Owens wouldn’t decide between Lake George and Alexandria Bay as the better vacation spot. And this question:
"Okay, Mr. Doheny, have you ever tipped a cow?" asked YNN host Liz Benjamin.
"Yes. Sorry, mom!" Doheny said.
Owens responded that he had never tipped a cow.
The only independent poll in this race showed Owens up by 13 points last month. But the amount of money pouring in from both national parties may indicate a tighter race. According to Bloomberg News, this campaign now ranks number five in the country in the number of TV ads in the last 30 days.
Green Party candidate Don Hassig wasn’t invited to the event hosted by YNN TV.
Audio excerpts from the debate are courtesy of YNN.