By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ERLANGER - Northern Kentucky's Fourth Congressional District Republican primary campaign erupted this week into a harsh exchange of bitter words between candidates Geoff Davis and Kevin Murphy.
Murphy spokesman Jay Townsend called Davis "spineless" for refusing to accept a debate challenge.
"It is our hope that Mr. Davis will ultimately muster the courage to stand on his own two feet and engage Kevin Murphy in a debate that voters have every right to hear," Townsend said.
Davis fired back. He said he has not refused to debate and that Murphy "has no real interest in debating the issues in a professional manner.
"Instead, he is only interested in engaging in negative personal attacks," Davis said. "He is desperate for anything he thinks might delay the sinking of the shipwreck that is his campaign."
Justin Brasell, Davis' campaign spokesman, said Davis has agreed to debate April 26 on KET statewide television.
"Murphy hasn't proposed any times, dates or forums for debates," Brasell. "We're curious to know if the 'Republicans for Lucas' group that Murphy chaired is sponsoring the debate."
Murphy did head a GOP group that in 1998 supported Ken Lucas, the Democratic Fourth District U.S. House member from Boone County who is not seeking re-election this year.
Murphy said at the time he did so because he opposed Gex (Jay) Williams, the Republican Lucas defeated in his first race for Congress.
Davis also said Murphy's "campaign consultants in New York and Washington, D.C., were sending out vicious personal attacks" against him.
The tone of the campaign is decidedly nastier as voters begin to focus on the GOP's May 18 primary.
For now, the third Republican in the race, Boone County chiropractor John King, has stayed out of the fray.
The rift between Murphy, an Erlanger lawyer, and Davis, a Boone County business consultant, started last week. Davis held a press conference announcing the support of more than 120 Kentucky business leaders.
During the press conference, Davis described himself as a free trader open to expanding business opportunities overseas.
The Murphy camp immediately came after Davis for a $10,000 campaign contribution he accepted two years ago from the Teamsters Union Political Action Committee. The organization has opposed free-trade initiatives for fear U.S. jobs will be lost to foreign countries.
"It is neither personal or vicious to correctly state that Geoff Davis took $10,000 from the Teamsters Union," Townsend said, "and that he received the money after promising to oppose key portions of the Bush economic plan."
Townsend also accused Davis supporters of throwing frozen waffles on the lawn of Lucas' Richwood home during the 2002 campaign. Davis, who lost to Lucas two years ago, had run several ads accusing Lucas of "waffling" on issues.
"No consultant or employee of Kevin Murphy has engaged in that kind of personal or juvenile silliness," Townsend said.
Davis and members of his campaign inner-circle have denied having any role in the waffle-tossing incident.
Davis defended taking the union campaign contribution.
"If my opponent takes issue with me for accepting union support two years ago, then he must take issue with every Republican who has accepted union support, including (House) Speaker Dennis Hastert" of Illinois, who took $5,000 in May of last year.
"To suggest that Dennis Hastert and I are anything but pro-business is preposterous," Davis said.
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