Sunday, February 10, 2002

Kentucky Politics


Election battle becomes fund war

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        A Northern Kentucky Republican leader likes to say that Democratic U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas' support in the heavily Republican 4th Congressional District is “a mile wide but an inch deep.”

        Well, my GOP friend, you need to take a look at the campaign finance report recently filed by Republican Geoff Davis, the Republican who wants to win Mr. Lucas' seat in November.

        Northern Kentucky money is as thin as Ally McBeal's forearm.

        The 4th District may include 24 counties but the race is won and lost in Northern Kentucky, where half of the voters live and much of the campaign cash resides. To win, you need Northern Kentucky votes and money.

        We won't know where Mr. Davis' votes will come from until November. But we sure know the bulk of his money is not coming — at least not yet — from Northern Kentucky.

        Mr. Davis' fund-raising efforts in the second half of last year were impressive. With contributions totaling $180,000, the challenger actually outraised the incumbent by about $10,000.

        But hardly any of the dough came from Northern Kentucky.

        Of the nearly 200 contributors listed on Mr. Davis' finance report, just 41 give Northern Kentucky addresses. Breaking that down further, there are only 21 families listed, with husbands, wives and kids recorded as contributing. There are six members of the Brueggeman family of southern Boone and Kenton counties alone.

        Mr. Davis will get some help from the national GOP later this month, when U.S. Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, comes to Northern Kentucky for a fund-raiser.

        But Vice President Dick Cheney has come around in the last two weeks to raise money for Republican members of Congress in Cincinnati, Louisville and Indiana but didn't get near Mr. Davis. Maybe the VP still remembers that ride on Air Force II he gave to Mr. Lucas last year during a promotional trip on the president's tax cut, which Mr. Lucas supported.

        If Mr. Davis wants to hit $750,000 — the mark Kentucky U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning has said must be made to take back the seat the Southgate Republican held for six terms before Mr. Lucas' election — he is going to absolutely have to attract more local cash.

        That's because Mr. Lucas is prepared to suck up a lot of GOP dollars. Even with the money Mr. Davis raised, Mr. Lucas still had more than twice as much cash.

        Mr. Lucas' finance team looks like the directory of the Republican-heavy Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. His campaign finance reports read like a Northern Kentucky phone book, with about 65 percent of his donors local.

        A few more reality checks for the Davis crew:

        Few pols use the bully pulpit as well as Mr. Lucas does. If he's in the district, he's working and doing his best to make some news.

        Take this Monday, when Northern Kentucky University honors the congressman for securing more than $1 million for the university over the last three years.

        And Mr. Lucas continues to score points as a Democrat not afraid to cross party lines and vote with the GOP. The most recent edition of the National Journal ranks Mr. Lucas as the second-most conservative Democrat in the House.

        By the way, Mr. Bunning came in as the third most conservative Republican senator; Sen. Mitch McConnell of Louisville was 16th.

        Still, the Lucas camp is more than a little rattled by Mr. Davis and the amount of money he raised. About one-third of Mr. Lucas' money came from political action committees, leading the Davis campaign to say it is Mr. Lucas that needs to concentrate on raising money from individuals in the district.

        And it looks like redistricting is a mixed bag for Mr. Lucas. He drops Shelby County, which he has never carried, but picks up Bath, Harrison, Nicholas and northern Scott counties — all carried by President Bush and Lexington Republican U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher in 2000.

        But Mr. Davis' surge is energizing Mr. Lucas and his base. The Republican seems to have won the last battle. But this is going to be a war.

       Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics. He can be reached at (859) 578-5581, or by e-mail at pcrowley@enquirer.com.

       



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