By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press
NEW CASTLE, Ky. - Nick Clooney's hopes for winning a seat in Congress are riding on voters like Gina Lyle.
Lyle plans to split her votes between Republicans and Democrats when she casts her ballot Nov. 2. She said she intends to vote for President Bush and for Clooney, a Democrat running in the 4th District.
Lyle said she was drawn to Clooney's personality when the former television anchorman campaigned in this Henry County town.
"He seemed very down to earth, even though he has star status," said Lyle, a mother of three whose husband is a tobacco farmer.
Clooney is the father of actor George Clooney and the brother of the late singer-actress Rosemary Clooney. His Republican opponent is Geoff Davis for the seat of retiring Rep. Ken Lucas, a Democrat.
For Clooney to carry the conservative district, he'll need support from people like Lyle, who split their tickets between the parties.
Bush remains popular in the district, which covers a broad expanse of northern Kentucky. Davis has aligned himself closely with the Republican president, even crossing into West Virginia to cheer on Bush at a rally.
Davis predicted the presidential election would give him a boost by spurring a large turnout among voters who share Bush's ideals.
"Conservative voters are going to come out who support a philosophy of lower taxes, keeping the economy strong, growing jobs and defeating international terrorism," Davis said.
Clooney, meanwhile, hopes to repeat the success of Lucas, who defeated Davis in 2000 while Bush easily outdistanced Al Gore in the district.
"Ken Lucas proved that the folks in the 4th District know very well how to split their ticket," Clooney said. "I'm following his example and hope some of it rubs off on me."
Clooney has kept his distance from national Democrats. He skipped the Democratic National Convention this summer and hasn't invited nationally prominent Democrats to campaign with him in the district.
Clooney said that when candidates cling to national politicians, it raises questions about their independence.
"When I was reporting, when I saw a candidate tagging around after the national candidate, what came to my mind was, 'OK, that means that whatever that national candidate wants, he's going to get out of this guy,'" he said. "That's kind of the rubber-stamp syndrome."
Davis said he would be no rubber stamp for Bush. He said he disagrees with Bush's proposal to allow younger workers to divert some Social Security taxes into private government-sponsored retirement accounts.
Davis also said the education law coined as No Child Left Behind, which Bush championed, imposed "arbitrary standards" that can hamper excellent school districts. Davis said he would prefer reining in federal oversight and giving local school officials more control.
Michael Baranowski, a Northern Kentucky University political science professor, predicted that the presidential race would have only a "marginal effect" on the outcome of the congressional contest.
"Certainly Bush's popularity in Kentucky can't hurt Davis; I just don't think it's going to help him all that much," Baranowski said.
"But given how tight the race is, it might not take much."
Some voters, like Sue Bush of Campbellsburg, have made their choice for president but are undecided between Davis and Clooney.
She said she would vote for George W. Bush, but wanted to hear from Davis before deciding on the congressional race. She said she heard Clooney at a campaign event and considered him "fairly impressive."
"I really thought the man was very sincere in what I thought he would try to do to help the farmers," she said of Clooney.
Meanwhile, in Kentucky's 3rd District, Rep. Anne Northup is being attacked by her Democratic challenger for steadfastly supporting Bush.
Democrat Tony Miller has run television commercials linking Northup with Bush and accusing her of voting with the president 98 percent of the time. In one ad, Miller says no one is right that often. An outside Democratic group also has run ads rapping Northup and Bush on the economy and health care.
Northup's ads haven't mentioned Bush. It's a turnaround from two years ago, when Northup was shown side by side with Bush in commercials and benefited from a late campaign appearance by the president that helped her narrowly defeat Democrat Jack Conway.
"A lot of things have changed in two years," Miller said.
Miller said he expects Kerry to win the 3rd District, which covers almost all of Jefferson County. Miller said many voters are dissatisfied with Bush's handling of the economy and the war in Iraq.
"A lot of people in this community feel that our government is off on the wrong track," he said.
Northup's chief of staff, Terry Carmack, said the impact of the presidential race would be "little to none" in the 3rd District outcome.
"People will focus on who can best represent them in Congress and who can deliver for Louisville," Carmack said.
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