Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Clooney Ky. race deemed critical to both parties



By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Northern Kentucky, where Democrat Nick Clooney is running for Congress, will be the party's toughest open-seat race in the country, the man in charge of getting Democrats elected to Congress said Tuesday.

And on that, even the Republicans agree.

Rep. Bob Matsui, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Clooney's celebrity and affability would be the key to victory in the conservative, President Bush-adoring district.

"This guy is a celebrity. He can overcome some of that," Matsui said. "He's going to raise a lot of money. He's determined. He knows exactly what he has to do. He knows he has to get on the phone and dial for dollars and do a lot of fund-raisers."

Matsui, a California Democrat, even compared the Clooney race to California's recall election.

"(Arnold) Schwarzenegger, you know, no one knew where he was ideologically. But he's a celebrity. And he put it together. And that's the same type of situation we'll see with Nick Clooney."

The 69-year-old Clooney, who lives in Augusta, is well known in Northern Kentucky as a TV news anchor, radio personality, newspaper columnist and activist for charitable causes. His sister was the famous singer and actress Rosemary Clooney. His son is actor, director and outspoken Democrat George Clooney.

To take back the House, now under GOP control, the Democrats must hold six seats now occupied by Democrats not running for re-election and then win 12 seats from Republicans.

"This is going to be a tough seat for us. I don't want to be under any illusions," Matsui said.

"This is probably the most competitive of these six open seats that we have."

President Bush won Kentucky's 4th Congressional District in a landslide, and for the past five years the Democrat representing the district has been conservative Rep. Ken Lucas, who voted in support of President Bush most of the time.

Clooney was in Washington on Monday and Tuesday meeting with Democratic leaders.

Republicans Tuesday said the district was also their top open-seat priority. With no incumbent, and Bush at the top of the ticket, the National Republican Congressional Committee sees the seat as more winnable than ever, spokesman Bo Harmon said.

Issues, not celebrity or affability, will determine who wins, he said.

"Clooney, by all accounts, is a very nice man but probably too liberal for the district politically," Harmon said.

Matsui said Lucas himself recruited Clooney for the seat. Lucas told Matsui two months ago he was thinking of retiring.

Only when Clooney decided to run did Lucas opt to give up his seat, Matsui said.

Running on the GOP side are two well-financed candidates, Boone County business consultant Geoff Davis, who barely lost in 2002 to Lucas, and Erlanger lawyer Kevin Murphy.

Of other local races, Matsui said:

• In Indiana, Rep. Baron Hill, a Seymour Democrat, is one of 19 "frontline" Democrats, as the party calls its most vulnerable incumbents.

• Unsuccessful Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Ben Chandler is the Democrats' top choice to run for a central Kentucky House seat.

E-mail cweiser@gannett.com




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