By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Residents of Kentucky's 4th Congressional District are used to having U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas support President Bush - even though Lucas is a Democrat.
So how will the voters react to comments like this on the war in Iraq from Democrat Nick Clooney, the media personality from Augusta who unexpectedly jumped Monday into the 2004 congressional race?
"We sent 300,000 of our best and brightest (soldiers) on a snipe hunt," said Clooney, who opposes the military action in Iraq.
Such words are in stark contrast to Lucas' remarks. He's a staunch supporter of Bush's military policy and made two trips overseas in the last year to visit troops and learn more about military and national security issues.
Clooney's candidacy brings a new dynamic to politics in the heavily conservative 4th District, a melting pot of divergent regions that includes the suburbs of Northern Kentucky and Louisville, small towns in need of an economic boost, like Ashland and dozens of rural communities where agriculture is a top issue.
But a common thread has been the support of Republicans like Bush, who won 61 percent of the district's vote in the 2000 election even as Democrats have a majority of registered voters - 250,883 compared to 166,782 for the GOP.
Observers say Lucas survived politically because of his conservative stances.
If Clooney - a longtime television and radio show host - runs left of center and espouses a Democratic platform, he will fail to gain any political traction in the district, Republicans predict.
"The Fourth District is conservative and Republican," said Erlanger lawyer Kevin Murphy, one of the Republicans running in May's Fourth District GOP primary.
"Nick Clooney is neither," Murphysaid.
"The Fourth District as a whole is Republican," said Geoff Davis, a Boone County businessman who barely lost to Lucas in 2000 and is once again seeking the nomination. "President Bush is extremely popular here."
A Bush fan? Uh, no
Clooney, like most new candidates, has called for a campaign free of personal attacks.
"We have very serious differences on policy, but I hope we can keep it from being personal," Clooney said.
He predicts Bush will come into the district to campaign against him next year.
"I can't worry about the big hitters coming in to hammer us," he said. "That's part of the job ... and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to tell people how I feel."
But Clooney is no fan of Bush and has already given critics plenty of campaign fodder on the issues.
While Lucas often praised the administration, Clooney openly questions Bush's veracity.
"I seem to hear the people in our administration saying one thing and meaning something entirely different," Clooney said.
"When we say 'Leave no child behind,' what we mean is 'Leave 6 million children behind.' When we say 'Weapons of mass destruction and imminent danger,' what we really mean is 'Not a sniff of weapons of mass destruction and apparently no imminent danger,' " Clooney said.
"Saying something does not necessary make it true, and simply saying it more often does not make it truer," he said.
Experts predict Clooney will have difficulty passing the test many Fourth District voters apply to candidates on the hot-button issues of abortion and gun control.
On abortion: Many Fourth District voters say they oppose abortion in all instances.
Clooney: Against abortion except when the mother's life is in danger.
On firearms: Many voters have said they desire less government gun-control regulation.
Clooney: Favors "a little bit better control of handguns" but does not believe new laws are needed to regulate rifles.
He has some issues that will play well. Among them: more spending to better equip the military and fewer cutbacks in veterans' services.
Both will be "high priorities" of his campaign platform, he said.
Clooney has expressed displeasure with recent news reports of military family members putting up their own money to buy better protection body armor for soldiers.
"That's not taking care of the guys and ladies over there," Clooney said.
And he criticized recent government cutbacks of veterans' benefits, including the closing of seven veterans' hospitals around the country.
"We can't do that," Clooney said. "We made promises to these people."
Linking candidate to the son
Republicans are eager to link Clooney to his famous son, the A-list actor George Clooney, an outspoken critic of Bush and an unabashed liberal Democrat.
In an article last year in GQ Magazine, George Clooney called Bush "dim" and was described as a "liberal's liberal who believes (former New York Governor) Mario Cuomo should be our president and keeps a photo of Jimmy Carter" in his bathroom.
Nick Clooney said he will not run from his son's political stances and even hopes George can tap some of his wealthy Hollywood connections for political contributions.
"I'm very proud of my son and proud of his courage to take positions on issues," Clooney said.
And don't expect him to back down from his criticisms of the president, he said, including shots he has taken in his Cincinnati Post column.
"I have to tell people how I feel and what I believe in," he said. "There are some who would disagree with me on individual subjects ... but I will certainly defend my positions, and do it as articulately as I can."
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