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New district will require geographic balancing act


Campaign officials for both Democratic Rep. Bill Owens and Republican Matt Doheny have privately acknowledged what their representatives are publicly trying to dance around: Their Nov. 6 face-off will focus on areas 100 miles away from Watertown.
Here's why: Mr. Owens has represented the Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence county areas for three years now, and Mr. Doheny has plenty of name recognition here, too, from his 2010 race.
But in the new part of the district, the two men are relatively unknown. The decennial redistricting process extended the district to Warren, Washington and Saratoga, and Herkimer counties, with more than 200,000 new residents living in an area that's the size of Rhode Island. Yes, you read that right. The district added a land mass the size of Rhode Island.
And voters there simply haven't heard much of of Bill Owens or Matt Doheny. That's why you've seen them spend a lot of time at events in Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties, and less so here.
But they'll need to stick to a balancing act, said Jeffrey Stonecash, a political science professor at Syracuse University.
"What a huge district," Mr. Stonecash said. "God, I mean, they must be on the road all the time."
While they'll pay plenty of attention to the new part of the district, they'll also have to make sure that the people in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, and other current counties don't feel left behind, Mr. Stonecash said.
That's the fine line that the campaigns are trying to walk, even though they privately concede that if I'm going to cover this race on the ground, I'll need to budget some extra gas money.
"[W]e need to educate voters about who Matt is and how he can get Washington working for us again. That’s been a two-year effort in the eight counties from the old 23rd that are in our new district, and a four-month effort in our four new counties," said Jude Seymour, a spokesman for Mr. Doheny, in an email. “It will take a significant amount of time to introduce Matt to all active voters in the new parts and earn their support, and it will take a significant amount of time to maintain our good relationships with the more than 52,000 individuals from the eight ‘overlap’ counties who voted for Matt in 2010. Campaigns are fluid by nature, so how our time spent in each section breaks down in hours and minutes - or as a percentage - is truly impossible to say.”
This is not to say, by the way, that the candidates have ignored Watertown or St. Lawrence and Lewis counties. I don't want to overstate my case; Mr. Owens and Mr. Doheny have both spent plenty of time in our neck of the woods. Just not as much as they have in the new part. Over there, it's a "jump ball."
Said James Hannaway, Mr. Owens' campaign manager: "Our grassroots operation is getting up and running now, and we'll have full time field organizers with offices covering Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties shortly."

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