On both sides of the aisle, national party organizations who will get involved in the north country's congressional election will try to turn top-of-the-ticket coattails into political liabilities.
Republicans say they will try to convince voters that Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, is little more than President Obama's emissary to the north country, despite Mr. Owens's attempts to distance himself from his fellow Democrat.
And Democrats will try to tie Matthew A. Doheny, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, to Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has a commanding edge in the Republican presidential nomination race. Both men have careers in business that come with political risk, because some companies that they helped restructure shed jobs in the process.
Neither tactic is particularly novel in the expected rematch between Mr. Doheny and Mr. Owens. The political “contrast” ads are likely to be thematically similar to the ads in their first race in 2010. But Mr. Romney's presence on the ticket and New York's still-struggling economy under Mr. Obama's tenure — even as his favorability appears on the mend — add a new dimension to the attacks.
Potential primaries on the Republican side and redistricting challenges could render the top-of-the-ticket tit-for-tat a point moot, but with financial and institutional advantages, Mr. Romney and Mr. Doheny both have the inside track to their respsective nominations. And the 23rd Congressional District is expected to remain largely intact during the decennial redrawing that will happen in the coming weeks and months.
The Owens campaign has tried to head off the Republicans' alliterative assailing of his proximity to Mr. Obama by so far declining to endorse the first-term president, who will seek re-election on the same ballot and in the same row as Mr. Owens.
But the Republican Party's House campaign arm dismisses it as little more than rhetoric.
“Independent minded folks in the north country have grown sick and tired of President Obama's job-destroying tax and spend agenda,” said Nathaniel B. Sillin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “That agenda is exactly what Bill Owens is going to have to defend since he voted in lock step with the President and his party 80 percent of the time as a Member of Congress. It's simply disingenuous and disrespectful to voters that Owens suddenly pretends he doesn't support the President.”
The 80 percent figure is based on two-year average of an analysis from the Washington Post that said Mr. Owens voted with Democrats 92 percent of the time in the 111th Congress and 72 percent of the time in the 112th Congress.
Mr. Owens's office is quick to point out that many of those votes are on procedural, small-ticket items, like naming post offices and honoring military families. And an analysis by the National Journal in 2011 concluded that Mr. Owens is indeed a moderate, with a 56 percent conservative and 44 percent liberal voting record.
But it's not just the totality of votes that will matter to the GOP. There are some particulars. For example, there's the Affordable Care Act, pejoratively known as Obamacare, that Mr. Owens continues to take flak for voting to approve. He also voted against a constitutional amendment that would have required a phased-in balanced budget in Congress, because he said it would restrain the nation's ability with economic crises and wars.
That vote in particular led the NRCC to accuse Mr. Owens in a Web ad of peddling “manure” by calling himself a moderate on fiscal issues.
“It's tough living in the middle, because sometimes you make both groups angry,” said Sean R. Magers, a spokesman for Mr. Owens.“A lot of people want it their way all the time. But that's not how the real world works. From the response we get with constituents, it's clear they're tired of politics as usual and they want a centrist tone in Washington."
Will Mr. Obama be a political liability? Before the 2010 election that Mr. Owens narrowly won, 56 percent of upstate voters saw Mr. Obama unfavorably, while 42 percent viewed him favorably. In Siena's most recent poll, conducted in mid-January, those numbers had just about flipped, with 54 percent of upstaters viewing the president favorably and 42 percent viewing the president unfavorably. The term “upstate,” of course, is not specific to the north country.
Democrats aren't the only ones trying to tie the opposing party's standard bearer to a down-ticket, north country candidate.
In 2010, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran ads accusing Mr. Doheny, a Watertown resident and former executive at Deustche Bank Securities, of firing workers and enriching executives while restructuring companies in bankruptcy.
The accusations will be reprised in 2012 if Mr. Doheny wins the nomination, and will be echoed on the national level as Democrats make similar accusations of Mr. Romney. Mr. Romney founded Bain Capital, a venture capital firm that invested in companies and helped turn them around, sometimes by laying off workers. Democratic campaign officials say they believe the discussion on the national level will make the theme even more potent in 2012.
“The fact that Doheny and Romney both made their fortunes at the expense of middle class families and are now working to cut taxes for millionaires like themselves is one of the reasons why voters will reject Doheny – just like they did in 2010,” Joshua Schwerin, a spokesman for the DCCC, said in an email.
Like Mr. Romney, Mr. Doheny's business history presents challenges and opportunities. Mr. Doheny's case to voters is similar to Mr. Romney's: His deep knowledge of business and finance will help turn America's economy around.
And, as the Republican argument goes, who better to lead that turnaround than the men who did it in the private sector?
Mr. Doheny's campaign was nonplussed by the preview of the Democrats' strategy.
“In the next eight months, Matt will show voters there's a better direction than the one we've been offered by the Obama-Owens team,” Jude R. Seymour, the campaign spokesman, said in an email.“Matt will promote free market principles to help grow our economy and protect seniors without racking up $1 trillion annual deficits that Obama and Owens are so fond of. We're sure that whomever the Republicans pick as their presidential nominee will join Matt in again making America a land of equal opportunity and individual choice.”