Saturday, September 04, 1999

GOP taunts Lucas for reluctance about Gore

Candidate seen as drag on election

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MITCHELL — Republicans have a message for U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, a Democrat up for re-election next year who is not openly backing Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign: You can run, but you can't hide.

        Like most House Democrats, Mr. Lucas, of Richwood, elected last year in Northern Kentucky's 4th District, is not publicly endorsing Mr. Gore and even appears to be backing away from any association with the vice president or the scandal-plagued Clinton administration.

        “I'm paddling my own canoe,” Mr. Lucas said Friday, repeating a quote that made national news in an Associated Press story this week.

        “All I'm concerned about right now is doing my job and representing the people of the 4th District,” he said Friday.

        Republicans are anxious to make the connection between Mr. Gore and House Democrats up for re-election.

        “The fact is Ken Lucas is a member of the political party whose nominee for president will be more liberal, more to the left than 70 percent of the voters in the 4th District,” said Kentucky GOP Vice Chairman Damon Thayer, Crittenden.

        “And I'm referring to Al Gore or Bill Bradley,” the former New Jersey senator also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Thayer said.

        “He can run but he can't hide from his party affiliation,” he added. “Either one of those guys will be an albatross around his neck.”

        Republicans can call Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley liberals, but that label doesn't apply to Mr. Lucas, said his top Washington, D.C., aide.

        “Ken Lucas is a conservative Democrat,” said John Lapp, Mr. Lucas' chief of staff. “He is doing exactly what he said he would do: stand up for the traditional Kentucky values.

        “As long as he does his job, the voters will re-elect him,” Mr. Lapp said.

        Republican Party leaders predict Mr. Gore will damage Democrats and their efforts to retake the House.

        U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said of 211 Democrats in the House, 57 are endorsing Mr. Gore, the clear front-runner for the party's nomination.

        “With Democrats already nervous about holding onto their seats in 2000, they cannot afford to endorse Al Gore and further weaken their position,” Mr. Davis said Friday.

        “The fact that Democrats are so divided and uncertain only strengthens our ability to increase the Republican majority in Congress and take back the White House in 2000,” he said.

        Mr. Lapp contends that presidential politics will not be an issue in Mr. Lucas' re-election campaign.

        “Elections are about candidates and message,” Mr. Lapp said. “Fourth District voters are independent thinkers who vote for the person, not the party, as was the case in the 1998 election.”

        In that election Mr. Lucas pulled an upset of sorts by defeating Republican Gex (Jay) Williams, a former state lawmaker from Boone County.

        Democrats also say that Mr. Lucas' opponent, Oldham County Republican Don Bell, has a built-in disadvantage because he is taking on an incumbent and does not live in Northern Kentucky, where about half of the voters in the 22-county 4th District live.

        Mr. Bell has yet to begin aggressively campaigning or raising money, while Mr. Lucas has spent much of Congress' summer recess visiting cities and communities throughout the district.

        The Democrats also dismiss the argument that Mr. Lucas will be damaged by Republican Party coattails in next year's election. GOP candidates George Bush in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996 carried the district even though Bill Clinton won Kentucky.

        Mr. Lucas already withstood the GOP coattail effect in last year's election, when Campbell County Republican Jim Bunning won a U.S. Senate seat after holding the 4th District House seat for 12 years.

        Mr. Lucas even carried Campbell County, which Mr. Bunning won with 77 percent of the vote.

        “Everyone talks about coattails,” Mr. Lapp said, “but in a place like the 4th District that's just not an issue.”


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