Thursday, October 7, 2004

Davis, Clooney to face off

Two debates next week will take race to new level

Click here to e-mail Patrick Crowley
Northern Kentucky's 4th Congressional District race enters a pivotal stage of the campaign next week.

Republican Geoff Davis and Democrat Nick Clooney will go head-to-head during two debates that will play to big audiences.

On Monday night, Davis, Clooney and independent candidate Michael Slider will debate on statewide television audience on KET public television from Lexington.

Then Wednesday evening, Clooney and Davis will debate before a live audience of as many as 1,000 people in Northern Kentucky University's Regents Hall in an event sponsored by Legacy, a young professionals group.

Slider has not been invited to participate in the Legacy debate but said he will campaign outside of the hall that evening.

In a race that appears to be close, if not a dead heat, Clooney and Davis both have a lot at stake in the debates, said Dr. J. Michael Thomson, chairman of NKU's Political Science Department.

"Both sides are nervous," Thomson said. "If you would poll right now I think this race would be very close."

Voters like debates because it presents candidates in a very human, unscripted environment.

"Debates are great because they offer one of the few opportunities for voters to see candidates unguarded," said political consultant Joe Shields of Park Hills, a partner in Wordsworth Communications in Cincinnati.

"It's easy for a candidate to shine in a mail piece or commercial," Shields said. "But to get to the true measure of a candidate, put them on a drafty stage with bright lights, an audience and no clue what the next questions is. That's politics at its purest."

And while debate watchers might say they are looking for substance, what often moves votes is style. Take last week's presidential debate, when President Bush received far more criticism for his facial expressions and demeanor than for what he said.

"Some people watch debates to learn about candidate positions," Shields said. "Some watch for the same reason they watch NASCAR, to see who will crash."

In next week's debates, Clooney needs to focus more on substance, while Davis needs to pick up some ground on style, Thomson said.

"Clooney can put people in a room, and he's very good in front of a crowd," Thomson said. "But he has not been very specific about his policies. He has to get people off that he has lived in Kentucky a long time and that he is a trusted, nice guy and show that he is a viable political candidate who can do a good job representing people in congress."

Davis, on the other hand, needs to loosen up a bit, Thomson said.

"Davis is not the world's most dynamic person," he said. "He is, and I say this with some affection, a policy wonk. He's ran (for congress) before and he is very specific on the issues, but he has to come across with some warmth and compassion."

Wade Williams, a lawyer and Legacy organizer, said Slider was excluded because the group wanted to focus on the two major candidates.

Slider, an Oldham County teacher, said he is disappointed at not having an opportunity to "show people they are not wasting their time voting for an independent candidate."

"People need to know there is an alternative," he said.

Debate dates

• 8 p.m. Monday at KET studios in Lexington (broadcast live on KET, Channel 2)

• 7 p.m. Wednesday at NKU Regents Hall (public invited)



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