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Conservative Party designation may or may not include a primary

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The Conservative Party finds itself in the eye of the 21st Congressional District storm this week as the two top Republican candidates, Elise M. Stefanik and Matthew A. Doheny, slug it out for the party’s nomination.

To date, Mr. Doheny has a lead in county endorsements. He has picked up committee support in St. Lawrence, Herkimer, Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties. Ms. Stefanik has been endorsed by the committee in Franklin County and by the chairman of the Essex County committee.

It is likely the candidate who appears on the Conservative Party line in November’s general election will have to have a Wilson-Pakula designation from the party, since no registered Conservatives in the district have announced an intention to run. The designation is required for a person not registered in a party to appear on that party’s ballot line.

There could be a primary within the party for the designation, but outside candidates will not be able to force one; that will be up to the state executive committee. State party Chairman Michael Long said there “is not much history for primary contests” within the party, but there have been some.

In the case of Ms. Stefanik and Mr. Doheny, Mr. Long would express no opinion on whom the executive party would support.

“Matt has been endorsed by us before,” Mr. Long said, referring to the 2012 congressional election. “Elise spoke before the committee and made a very favorable impression.”

The executive committee is expected to take up the matter in April, after the nominating petitions are due to be turned in.

Mr. Long said the party would decide on either a candidate or a primary to decide a candidate in April. While it could nominate a “placeholder” candidate who would step aside after the June 24 Republican primary is concluded and the winner known, the chairman said, “No, I don’t see that happening at all.”

On Saturday, both candidates made statements and answered questions offered by the Franklin County Conservative Committee. Mr. Doheny had promised earlier in the week to make a strong push for the endorsement, but came away empty handed; Ms. Stefanik walked out with the endorsement.

This is what a Stefanik campaign news release said about it:

“Following the Franklin County Conservative Party endorsement, Chairman Robert White released the following statement:”

“‘Our committee members peppered Elise and Matt with dozens of questions covering a wide range of issues while they jointly met with us for more than an hour and a half today. It was clear from committee member discussions afterwards that Elise was the stronger and more Conservative candidate.’”

The release went on to quote Mr. White praising Ms. Stefanik’s experience in the White House and at the national political level and her courage, which, he said, “she will need it when she gets to Washington.”

On Sunday, favor went in the other direction, as Mr. Doheny captured the St. Lawrence County Conservative Party endorsement.

In a release issued by the Doheny campaign, St. Lawrence County Conservative Party Chairman Hank Ford said, “With Matt Doheny in the race, we now have a terrific opportunity to send a Conservative to Congress who understands and can help the North Country. Matt has spent his career outside the beltway in the real world — and that’s exactly what we need in our next Representative. Matt Doheny is the most Conservative and electable candidate in the race, and the St. Lawrence Conservative Party is proud to enthusiastically endorse him.”

While the county endorsements will count for something, Mr. Long said, the decision on how the candidate will be chosen will rest with the state party executive committee — and that decision is at least a month away.

“We’ll see who qualifies, who petitions to run,” Mr. Long said Monday. “Then we’ll make a decision.”

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