Monday, December 1, 2003

Crowley: Kentucky politics

Clooney breathes fresh vitality into fading Democrats

Just when it looked like time to stick a fork in Kentucky's Democratic Party, the Dems go out and do something that is bold and imaginative.

Local media star Nick Clooney may not win next year's 4th Congressional District race. But the Augusta Democrat with the legendary sister and the famous son is sure going to make things interesting.

The Dems don't necessarily want to see incumbent U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas leave Washington. But if the three-term Boone County Democrat wants to step down after his current term, then bring on Clooney.

Clooney's candidacy "is a welcome addition," said long-time and long-suffering Democrat Bob Hoffman, 78, a Boone County lawyer who has watched Northern Kentucky Democrats go from majority to near obscurity over the past few years. "He's not one of the same old politicians out there," Hoffman said. "He's something new, like Arnold (Schwarzenegger) out in California. He'll take some hard knocks from the Republicans. But having him run just might be the thing that works."

The Democrats are desperate for a big win. The Nov. 4 gubernatorial race won by Republican Ernie Fletcher solidified the GOP mantra that's it time for a new ruling political class in Kentucky.

Lucas was the last Democrat standing. He barely survived a challenge in 2002 from Republican Geoff Davis, who along with Kevin Murphy is vying for the GOP nomination for the '04 race.

As a candidate Clooney brings the usual mix of good and bad to the campaign. He is well-known, has deep Kentucky roots, has been active in community and charitable causes and events and knows how to interact with people. And because of his media experience, he is great in front of television cameras.

His late sister Rosemary was a famous singer; his son George is one of Hollywood's most prominent actors.

Clooney also has a certain amount of local star quality that could excite voters not prone to backing Democrats. He will likely entice some voters to the polls who usually don't come out on Election Day.

But he has a downside as well.

Clooney is basically a liberal Democrat, which in the 4th District is akin to having malaria. Nobody wants to touch you. Were his name not Clooney, he wouldn't have a chance.

He doesn't have a public record, because he's never held elected office. But as a columnist for the Cincinnati Post, he's criticized Bush and taken stands you won't find in the GOP's platform.

"The columns he's written will provide plenty of ammunition for his opponents," said Terry Carmack, a leading Louisville Republican.

And then there's George, Clooney's son, an outspoken critic of most things Republican and all things Bush.

George is what many Republicans and even conservative Democrats in this district fear most, a Hollywood liberal. There will be an all-out effort by some to make the father pay for the political sins of the son.

Clooney is a liberal Democrat, but he also sports a great name and looks to be made for retail politics. The landscape has definitely changed.

Clooney is in for a rough, tough, uphill battle. The Republicans are battle-tested and girding for a fight, while the Dems are sporting some new energy.

Maybe there's a movie in this for George.


E-mail Crowley interviews Kentucky State Senate candidate Kathy Groob this week on ICN6's "On the Record," which is broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.

Crowley: Kentucky politics
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