MASSENA, N.Y. (WWTI) — All eyes are on the North Country as candidates vie to represent the 21st Congressional District in this year’s race.

Matt Castelli is one of the two democratic candidates running in this year’s race.

The 21st is a 15-county district, making it the largest Congressional District east of the Mississippi River. Castelli, a former CIA agent, said his goal for his campaign has to put “country before party.”

“I led teams leading down some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, served in Afghanistan and Iraq. But after COVID-19 it got to a point where we were having a 9/11 in this country every day in terms of deaths. So I left government and joined a healthcare organization,” Castelli explained. “But then January 6 happened.”

He said that the January 6 insurrection was one of the reasons he decided to run for Congress, given his experience in national security.

But now after being on the campaign trail for over a year, Castelli shared that North Country voters are most concerned about the rising cost of daily life.

As a solution, Castelli proposed making more community investments in childcare, healthcare and mental health resources.

“This is an opportunity where we can come together and actually make investments in our community,” Castelli noted. “To help grow our economy and reduce costs for working families.”

But he’s connecting with voters in a new way, by moving across party lines.

“I’m not just running as a Democrat. I’m also running as a member of the moderate party. Something we established here at the beginning of this race and we had tremendous support,” he said.

Castelli added that he believes this will help him show up for voters, regardless of their political party.

“It’s making yourself available to listen to the top concerns of all constituents. Yes, our service members outside places like Fort Drum. Yes, our agricultural industry, our farmers. The first step is actually showing up and listening to folks,” he concluded.

Castelli will face Democratic candidate Matt Putorti in New York’s Primary Election on Tuesday, August 23. If successful, he will go on to face Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in the November 2022 general election.