Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Clooney makes run for Congress official

Democrat wants to hold seat Lucas is leaving

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A man who has spent a career reading and writing the news now wants to make the news.

Geoff Davis (left), Republican candidate for Kentucky's Fourth District Congressional seat, and Nick Clooney, a Democrat who announced Monday he is running for the seat, chat in the hallway of WCPO's downtown office.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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Click to view a detailed Nick Clooney timeline (PDF file, 652k)
(Elizabeth Kane infographic)
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Media personality Nick Clooney shocked Kentucky's political establishment and breathed life into a wounded Democratic party with his announcement Monday that he will run for Congress in Northern Kentucky's Fourth Congressional District.

Clooney, 69, is a 30-year resident of the Ohio River city of Augusta, 40 miles east of Cincinnati. He wants the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, a Boone County Democrat not seeking re-election.

"I understand this is a very important seat nationally, but that can't be my concern," Clooney said. "I have to worry about the people of the Fourth District. I think I know most of our virtues and our faults, because I have them. I'm the same person they are."

For most of the past 30 years Clooney has been in the media, as a TV news anchor, radio personality, newspaper columnist and activist for charitable causes. His sister was famous singer and actress Rosemary Clooney. His son is A-list Hollywood actor, director and outspoken Democrat George Clooney.

The question is, does that make him a viable candidate - or qualified?

University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, an expert on congressional politics, said that, despite his appeal, Clooney will have trouble winning in the conservative district.

"Nick Clooney brings some star power," Sabato said. "But I've found that while celebrities can bring money and attention to a candidate, they cannot elect him. And the Fourth District is one of the toughest places in the country for a Democrat to win."

Clooney said Monday his background would help him. He likely won't, for instance, have to spend as much money to build name recognition.

"My face has been hanging out on the television screen for so long, whether they like me or not, they know who I am," he said.

He said he and his wife, Nina, would begin campaigning next week.

"I know this district, I've lived in it for 30 years," Clooney said. "But I want to get out and listen, I want to see what is bugging people, what is not getting done, and then work that into position papers. No one is going to outwork me in this."

It will be an uphill battle. Lucas is the last Democrat in Kentucky's eight-member federal delegation, and just three weeks ago a Republican - Ernie Fletcher - gave the GOP its first gubernatorial victory in 32 years.

Republicans say Clooney will be a formidable candidate who will, like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, get some mileage from his name.

"It definitely changes the playing field," said Boone County business consultant Geoff Davis, who barely lost the 2002 race to Lucas. "But it does not change what we are going to do one bit," Davis said.

Erlanger lawyer Kevin Murphy, Davis' opponent in the May 2004 primary, said Clooney's "star power will wear off when the issues come to the forefront."

Republicans plan to portray Clooney as an out-of-touch liberal more attuned to the Hollywood world of his son than the real concerns of people in the 4th District. They also plan to attack George Clooney for bashing Bush.

Davis insiders hinted that Bush would visit the Fourth District next year to campaign for Davis.

"It's a tough time to be a Democrat in Kentucky," said state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, vice chairman of the Kentucky GOP. "Nick Clooney is just too liberal for the voters of the Fourth Congressional District."

Clooney said he favored military action against Afghanistan but was against the invasion of Iraq. On other issues, he believes some gun control is necessary, is against abortion "except in the case of the woman being in danger" and advocates more spending on veterans programs.

"I am always concerned about how a message will play with the voters, but I can't let that affect my opinion," Clooney said. "I have to tell people how I feel and why I believe that and how I will back up my opinion."

Democrats say Clooney is the ideal candidate for Democrats to hold the seat.

"He's a Republican nightmare," said Nathan Smith, chairman of the Kenton County Democratic Party. "He has name recognition, he especially appeals to older voters because of his career in the region and people really like the Clooney family. If the Fourth District has a first family, it would be the Clooneys."



E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com

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