Sunday, March 21, 2004

Son's help gets mixed reviews

George Clooney slips into town for fund-raisers

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT MITCHELL -- Lynne Hollenkamp staked out what she thought would be the perfect place to catch a glimpse and possibly a photo of George Clooney Saturday night.

With her four-year-old niece, Ashley Harney, and other family and friends Hollenkamp waited patiently at the table nearest the door at The Oriental Wok. Clooney's father, Democrat Nick Clooney, was holding a fund-raiser for his congressional campaign at the restaurant.

But George Clooney dodged Hollenkamp, reporters and a few other curious fans by ducking in a side door and then into a private room where about 150 people paid $250 to mingle with the Hollywood celebrity who was raised in nearby Bracken County.

"I have to admit it, I came to see George Clooney," said Hollenkamp, 52, a Fort Mitchell Democrat who plans on voting for the actor's father this fall. "I've loved him ever since he was on E.R. He's very handsome. I just think that if he wants to help his father run for office he should come out here in the restaurant and talk to people."

Clooney is the only Democrat running for the Fourth District congressional seat. Three Republicans are on the ballot for the May 18th GOP primary: Boone County businessman Geoff Davis; Erlanger lawyer Kevin Murphy, and Florence chiropractor Dr. John Kelly King.

Just about four miles south of the restaurant Saturday, Northern Kentucky Republicans gathered at the Cincinnati Airport Hilton Hotel in Florence for the GOP's annual Fourth District Lincoln/Reagan Day Dinner.

The actor spent much of Saturday in Kenton County, appearing at two private fund-raisers. In one, about 100 people paid $1,000 to see him at a Villa Hills home.

Based on the number of people who attended, and amounts charged for tickets, it appeared the campaign raised nearly $140,000 Saturday night. Two weeks ago, George Clooney raised an estimated $200,000 for his dad's campaign at a gathering at his southern California home.

"How about that rascal," Nick Clooney said of his son, "he showed up to help the old man. Of course it doesn't nearly pay for that 1976 Monte Carlo I gave him as kid."

Nick Clooney and his wife, Nina, greeted people as they came into the restaurant. The couple lives in Augusta in Bracken County. Clooney has been a local media and television personality for years but has never run for public office.

"It's great having my son come to help," Clooney said. "It's family. When my son and my daughter show up and help me, it means a lot and it shows me this is more than just politics. We still matter to one another."

George Clooney spoke at both events Saturday but stayed away from making political statements, talking instead about his father and how he wants to help him with the election.

"George said this is the one place he can come to and be known as Nick's son," said former Miss America Heather French Henry, who was raised in Clooney's hometown of Augusta. She attended the fund-raiser with her husband, former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, a Louisville Democrat.

"George understands that he's here to help his dad, but I think you'll see him back here in October," Steve Henry said.

Others leading Democrats at the restaurant fund-raiser included House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan of Wilder; statehouse candidates Ken Rechtin of Newport and Kathy Groob of Fort Mitchell; Covington City Commissioner Bernie Moorman; Fort Thomas Councilman Roger Peterman, and Campbell County Commonwealth Attorney Jack Porter, also of Fort Thomas.

Republican officials and candidates say George Clooney's outspoken Democratic views and criticism of President George Bush's administration will hurt his father's campaign.

"While Nick Clooney was gallivanting with his liberal friends Republicans from across the Fourth District celebrated the true spirit of conservatism," state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said in a phone interview just before the GOP event.

"George Clooney puts the spotlight on his liberal tendencies and beliefs that are out of step with the Fourth District of Kentucky," Thayer said.

Clooney's campaign kept the younger Clooney off limits to the press, fearing that he might make an overt political statement that would be used against his father.

But Grant County Democrat Cliff Wallace, who is challenging Thayer in the fall, said George Clooney's ability to attract attention, votes and money will help Nick Clooney's campaign.

"It's a tremendous asset to have," said Wallace, who attended the Oriental Wok fund-raiser. "People all over the district know who George Clooney is. That can only help his father's campaign."



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