By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer
HEBRON - Republican Geoff Davis won the congressional seat Tuesday that he nearly captured two years ago.
Davis, a Boone County business consultant, overcame the strong name of media personality and Democrat Nick Clooney to win Kentucky's 4th District congressional race.
Two years ago, Davis came within 2 percentage points of defeating Democratic incumbent Ken Lucas of Boone County, who is retiring. The win returns a seat to the GOP that the party had held for more than 30 years before Lucas' victory in 1998.
It was election night 2002 that Davis pledged to win the seat, using his concession speech to Lucas basically to announce his candidacy for the 2004 race.
"We have restored conservative leadership to the 4th District of Kentucky," Davis told a raucous crowd Tuesday during a victory celebration at the Airport Marriott hotel in Boone County.
"To all the folks on the campaign team, thank you," Davis said. "For your second efforts, your endless energy, for your devotion to duty and a great cause. Without your dedication, commitment and perseverance, we together would not be standing here tonight.
"Our hundreds of volunteers stamped the mail, did the thankless job of going door to door in the rain and working hard and waving the signs," said Davis, with his wife of 24 years, Pat, at his side. "We love you, that toil in the field paid off and you all have given your most precious possession of all - your time and your energy and your prayers and we are grateful to you and grateful to God tonight."
During a concession speech at the Fort Mitchell Best Western, Clooney thanked his family and supporters and encouraged Democrats to stay active in future 4th District races.
"Somewhere, and perhaps right in this audience," Clooney said, "there is exactly the right candidate who will be able to articulate the wonderful things that the Democratic Party stands for in Kentucky.
"Hasten the day when we find that man or woman who will be standing here a couple of years from now and saying, 'I'm happy to have won this race,' " he said.
Clooney thanked his many supporters, including his wife, Nina.
Clooney, the fatigue of his yearlong race showing in his face, left the hotel shortly after his speech.
Just three weeks before the vote, Clooney's son-in-law died.
In the end, the race was not that close. With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Davis had nearly 55 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.
Independent Michael Slider, an Oldham County teacher, took almost 2 percent of the vote.
The campaign was one of the most watched and followed in the country, and not just because it was a highly competitive race in which a Democrat was trying to win a seat in what is considered GOP territory.
Clooney's son, George, a Hollywood actor and outspoken liberal, became a lighting rod of criticism and a whipping post for Republicans who portrayed the race as "Hollywood versus the Heartland."
The son did help the father raise more than $300,000 from a slew of Hollywood actors, including Paul Newman and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
And Clooney turned the "Hollywood versus Heartland" slogan against the Republicans, pointing out that he has lived in the district most of his life while Davis moved here about 10 years ago.
"Everything I know," Clooney often said, "I learned here in the 4th District."
Clooney was also haunted by passages from newspaper columns he had written over the years. His writings on gun control, abortion, national defense and the death penalty put him out of step with most of the district's voters.
Clooney accused the Republicans of taking many of his writings out of context. He also said some of the positions he took were not necessarily his opinion, but that he wanted the columns to be thought-provoking.
Davis raised more than $2 million, almost twice as much as Clooney. National Republican political committees in Washington spent more than $1 million on behalf of Davis.
The candidates differed on major issues, including tax cuts, the war in Iraq and medical malpractice reform.
The 4th District covers 24 counties and stretches for 200 miles along the Ohio River from Ashland to near Louisville, dipping to near Lexington in central Kentucky.
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