The contrast on Monday was clear: Kellie A. Greene, flanked by unpaid volunteers, walked from a pizza shop on Public Square, down Court Street, and into the signage-decked and staffer-filled headquarters of Matthew A. Doheny.
She handed a staffer a written invitation to hold a debate at some point before the Republican primary June 26, an offer the staffer quickly accepted.
“It allows the voters to see we’re willing to engage the other side,” Ms. Greene said in an impromptu news conference on the Court Street sidewalk. “We haven’t really seen Mr. Doheny or I engage each other.”
The aggressive gesture was a sign that a relatively low-key primary for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by Rep. William L Owens, D-Plattsburgh, could heat up just three weeks before the primary election, and that both campaigns believe Mr. Doheny had a lead boosted by fundraising, institutional support and name recognition after three years of running for Congress.
A date, location and a moderator haven’t been decided.
Ms. Greene said Mr. Doheny has publicly played the “ignore me” game, instead focusing his criticism on Mr. Owens. Monday’s public display, and the likely upcoming debate, will make ignoring the upstart candidate impossible.
“We were playing from behind when we got into the race,” Ms. Greene said. “You have to understand, we are coming into a campaign where Mr. Doheny has been running for three years and had the name recognition.”
Mr. Doheny also ran for Congress in 2010, losing by 1,995 votes to Mr. Owens. He is one of only 12 Republican challengers nationwide to be selected by the National Republican Congressional Campaign’s candidate recruitment effort, and has the support of every GOP committee in the 12-county north country district.
Ms. Greene said when she runs into Mr. Doheny at parades and other public events, the conversations are amicable, but Mr. Doheny has sounded confident, asking her to volunteer for his campaign on June 27, the day after the GOP primary.
The Doheny campaign said it’s taking the primary seriously, and it is willing to debate because it respects the right of Republican voters to make an informed decision. Mr. Doheny, who already has the support of the Conservative and Independence parties, wasn’t in the office during Ms. Greene’s surprise visit.
“That’s the point of a primary,” said Jeff Freeland, the Doheny campaign manager. “It’s a democracy. Let’s get it all out in the open and talk about it.”