OGDENSBURG — Matt Doheny has a question.
He pokes his head out of the entrance to the campaign office in the strip mall that just opened here, looks at Don Coon, whom I'm in the middle of interviewing, and jokingly accosts him:
"Hey, are you supporting (Mitt) Romney for president?" Mr. Doheny said.
"Clint Eastwood," Mr. Coon deadpanned. "He's right next to me. You can't see him?”
Mr. Coon was referring to the Republican National Convention speech by the legendary Hollywood actor and director, a 12-minute performance that was only slightly more bizarre and convoluted than the position that Mr. Doheny's opponent, Rep. Bill Owens, has taken on the question that Mr. Coon was answering.
Mr. Doheny, who faces Mr. Owens on Nov. 6 for the House of Representatives seat, was asking the question not because he doesn't already know the answer. Mr. Coon, a delegate to the Tampa, Fla. convention who witnessed Mr. Eastwood's speech, supports Mr. Romney. So does Mr. Doheny. But the Doheny campaign, sensing that President Barack Obama is unpopular in the north country, has been pressing for several days now for Mr. Owens to drape himself in the Obama flag. The campaign claims that Mr. Owens hasn't endorsed Mr. Obama — even though he actually has, albeit gingerly.
They're looking for any opportunity — even at the Seaway Shopping Center, next to Donut King — to make that connection just a little bit stronger.
So where does Mr. Owens stand on Mr. Obama? Does the Doheny campaign have a case to make here? Let's review the facts.
As far back as last year, Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he wasn't sure whether he would support his fellow Democrat for re-election.
It's the type of stand that a Democrat in a Republican district has to take. But it didn't last forever. Mr. Owens said he supported Mr. Obama in June when he said this: "As I'm looking at this now, I'm going to support the person who in my opinion is most focused on the middle and trying to create jobs, trying to help the middle class, help the majority of Americans, who's going to be focused on the United States," Mr. Owens said. "Right now, that looks to me like it's the president."
That is a tepid endorsement, adorned with temporal references that signal he could change his mind and couched in the notion that it's really the only sensible choice.
But it's an endorsement nonetheless. The Doheny campaign is just looking for something nice and pithy that can be used in a campaign commercial. And you can't fit "As I'm looking at this now..." into a campaign commercial. To me, the Doheny strategy here is fair game. And I think Mr. Owens' position a bit muddled. But that's the risk that the Owens campaign is taking: I can be as snarky as I want about his position, but that won't pierce the consciousness like the E word, from Mr. Owens himself, would.
Mr. Doheny today pressed me on the subject, and jokingly questioned whether I've got any backbone. I'm reluctant to fall for this spinal trap. So I'll just say this: I've written of Mr. Owens' position on Mr. Obama with the words "endorsement" and "support." The Owens campaign reads my blog. And they haven't asked for a correction.
Unless Mr. Owens was endorsing an empty chair this whole time, I'd say case closed.
Now that that's over with, maybe we can talk about Medicare now.