- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The two Republican primary candidates in the sprawling 21st Congressional District agreed on many issues, but continued to spar over their roots in northern New York during a debate Tuesday.

Matt Doheny, 43, and Elise Stefanik, 29, are seeking the ballot spot in what was traditionally a Republican district where Democrat incumbent Bill Owens chose not to run.

In a debate on Time Warner Cable television, both said they’d vote to repeal the new federal health care law, call for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki over revelations of mismanagement, support Fort Drum against defense department cuts, and join Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer in calling for more money to combat the heroin epidemic.

But Doheny repeatedly stressed that he was raised in the district and noted Stefanik left the Albany area after graduation from Harvard College to work for Republicans in Washington, including a stint in the Bush administration and as a campaign aide to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Stefanik has since moved to her family’s vacation home in the Essex County town of Willsboro and launched a campaign against Owens before he decided not to seek re-election.

In response, Stefanik pointed to Doheny’s career as an investment manager on Wall Street before returning to Watertown, where he runs a private investment firm, and touted small business experience with her family’s wood products business. She described her time in Washington as devoted to pursuing conservative interests,

Both said they would push to reduce taxes and tariffs to promote trade with Canada and neither embraced the so-called “Ryan Budget,” with its changes to programs including Social Security and Medicare.

“My generation is going to have to clean up this mess,” Stefanik said of government debt and spending. But she said she “would not touch entitlements for people in or near retirement.” She defined that as people age 50 or older.

Doheny said he would have voted against the measure in the House, saying he’s against “votes that have no meaning. It was a political showboat.”

Both dodged a question about whether they would actively continue to campaign if they lose the June 24 Republican primary. Doheny will still be on the Independence Party line, Stefanik the Conservative.

But both had a different approach to minimum wage increases, with Doheny saying it should be left to the states and Stefanik open to the possibility at the national level if “small businesses have a seat at the table.”

And in a particularly testy exchange, Doheny criticized Stefanik for taking outside money for the campaign.

“There’s only one candidate with a SuperPac coming in for them,” he said, referring to Stefanik and “Washington insiders.”

Stefanik responded with a reference to Doheny’s back-to-back losing efforts to defeat Owens in 2010 and 2012.

“I’m not a self-funder,” she said. “I haven’t spent millions of dollars in previous campaigns.”

She said she has been raising small-money donations and has “no control over outside groups.”

Democrats are backing documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf.

The district covers much of northern New York, from the Lake Ontario shore near Watertown, north to the Canadian border and south to the Saratoga Springs city line.

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