PLATTSBURGH — After a relatively mild start to Tuesday night’s live television debate, both candidates for the 21st Congressional District seat ramped up the aggression in the second half.
“That second half was pretty good. We got after each other,” Republican challenger Matt Doheny said following the one-hour debate at the Valcour Conference Center hosted by WPTZ News Channel Five.
The second half of the debate featured Doheny and incumbent Bill Owens asking each other questions directly.
Doheny wanted to know why Owens is supporting President Barack Obama.
“Because he has the middle class interests best at heart,” Owens said.
Doheny replied that it is the president and Owens who are responsible for the lack of economic growth the country has been dealing with the past three years.
Owens pressed Doheny on Medicare, accusing him of being in favor of privatizing the program, which would drive up costs.
“You got your facts wrong,” Doheny said.
“I am not in favor of privatizing it and you know it.”
Owens did not let up, telling Doheny that by allowing private insurance companies into the system, “it clearly is” privatizing.
The two also sparred on whether the Bush-era tax cuts should be allowed to expire, with Doheny telling Owens, “You can’t tax yourself to growth.”
“You didn’t answer the question,” Owens said, referring to his inquiry as to how Doheny would pay for keeping the cuts in place.
The two both waded through the first half of the debate confidently answering questions from moderators Stephanie Gorin, George Mallet and Stewart Ledbetter about health care, the national debt, unemployment, campaign funding and the Farm Bill, but no real haymakers were thrown.
Doheny, a former Wall Street investor who worked to turn around distressed companies, said he will be the region’s “salesman in chief” when it comes to creating jobs in the 21st District.
Owens, a former Plattsburgh attorney, continued his support for the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
“My opponent talks about repeal and replace, but there is no replace,” he said.
Green Party candidate Donald Hassig of St. Lawrence County was not invited to the debate because he did not meet specific criteria as a viable candidate.
WPTZ News Director Sinan Sadar said the station wanted to see candidates with an office outside their house, filings with the Federal Election Commission and at least double-digit figures in the polls, none of which Hassig has.
Hassig did participate in a debate with Owens and Doheny in Glens Falls last month.
Longtime SUNY Plattsburgh political science professor Harvey Schantz said both Doheny and Owens acquitted themselves well Tuesday night.
“A challenger can win these things by showing that he is a credible alternative and I think Doheny did that,” Schantz said.
“The incumbent needs to show that he is still in charge and he did that, too.”
Schantz said both candidates showed their clear ideological differences with Doheny championing his self-made business model, and Owens sticking up strongly for Obamacare.
“This is a lot about avoiding big mistakes and I think both candidates did that,” he said.
Doheny, who wore a dark suit, blue shirt and green tie, and Owens, who wore a slightly lighter suit, blue-striped tie and white shirt, were both pleased with their own performances.
“My strategy was to answer the questions as best we could and I think we did that,” Owens said.
Doheny also believed he accomplished his goals.
“My strategy was to make sure the voters clearly understand that there is a very clear choice,” he said.
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