By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - In the last face-to-face encounter of Northern Kentucky's congressional race, Republican Geoff Davis and Democrat Nick Clooney slugged it out verbally Wednesday night over campaign tactics and political platforms.
Hundreds of spectators watched a particularly animated Clooney repeatedly chide Davis for running a "sleaze" campaign during the hour-long debate sponsored by Legacy, the young professionals group, and held in Northern Kentucky University's Regents Hall.
"We've got to get back to some civility," Clooney said.
Davis agreed, saying the ads that are harshest are run by outside groups supporting both candidates.
The segment in which candidates asked each other questions, often a flashpoint in debates, became so contentious that Channel 19 news anchor Tricia Macke was more referee than moderator.
Clooney and Davis frequently interrupted each other as they argued over who has run the more negative campaign.
And throughout the debate, applause, boos and even some catcalls and jeers often followed the candidates' comments and answers to questions posed by a panel of journalists.
Clooney used nearly all of his four-minute closing to criticize the Republican Party of Kentucky for raising questions about one of his campaign volunteers.
Last week GOP state party chairman John McCarthy held a press conference to question if there was a conflict of interest for Angie Cain to continue working for incumbent U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas while at the same time volunteering for Clooney. Lucas, a Boone County Democrat, is not seeking re-election.
"They put her," Clooney said, "in the sleaze arena."
"I want to put that behind me," Clooney said. "And I'm looking forward to when I can talk about real health care and talk to like-minded people about jobs in Kentucky and about our schools being the best ever. I'm going to walk away from darkness, and I'm going to walk toward the sunlight."
But Davis, a West Point graduate and former Army ranger, took exception to Clooney's comments, particularly one in which Clooney said Davis disgraced the uniform he wore as a soldier.
"He said I dishonored the uniform of my country," Davis said, "which is extremely inappropriate."
The candidates did talk about their differences on issues.
On health care, Clooney said part of the answer to lowering costs and increasing access is to provide tax credits to small business that offer health insurance to employees and to allow cheaper prescription drugs to be imported from Canada and other countries, which is now prohibited by federal law.
Davis said health care costs can be reduced by medical malpractice reform. Frivolous lawsuits, he said, are driving doctors out of the 4th district and increasing costs.
On Iraq, Clooney would not say if the invasion was a mistake by the Bush administration, claiming the question is irrelevant because "we are already there."
Clooney said he would support increased funding for the war "because we are going to complete the job."
Davis said that troops will remain in Iraq "for some time" and that an exit strategy is to "win the war."
As he has throughout the campaign, Davis called for President Bush's tax cuts to be permanent, saying that is one of the keys to stoking the rebounding economy. Clooney favors middle-class tax cuts but said cuts for the wealthiest wage earners and for businesses to outsource jobs overseas need to be eliminated.
Both candidates said they would push for federal funding to replace the Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River, a project estimated to cost $1 billion or more.
Independent candidate Michael Slider, who was not invited to participate, said afterwards he was "saddened by the political dialogue in general."
"It hurt me as a Kentuckian ... that it was that nasty," Slider said. "All the time we spent talking about that stuff is time we are not talking about issues."
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