Sunday, May 14, 2000

GOP primary race subdued

3 candidates have few funds, advertised little

        FORT MITCHELL — Steve DeVoto is the kind of Northern Kentucky voter who usually follows this month's Fourth Congressional District Republican primary.

        A registered Republican and financial planner from Villa Hills, Mr. DeVoto is active in local politics, enjoys following campaigns and produces cable access programs that focus on community issues and controversies.

        But ask him about the May 23 Fourth District GOP primary and he responds:

        “What primary?”

        Mr. DeVoto was vaguely aware that Republicans will go to the polls in nine days to nominate a candidate to run against U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, the first-term Democratic incumbent from Richwood in Boone County.

        But he called the field of candidates “embarrassing” and the lack of an aggressive campaign “a joke.”

        “There's supposed to be a primary going on and there is nothing happening,” Mr. DeVoto said. “I'm a hard-core Republican, but when I look at stuff like this, it makes me about want to go to the other side.”

        Even though Northern Kentucky has about half the voters and the largest Republican base in the 22-county Fourth District, there is little evidence of an ongoing primary election.

        The three candidates, none of whom have ever held elected office, are:

        • Don Bell, a retired U.S. Secret Service agent from Oldham County in the west end of the district. He has run for statewide and local office.

        • Roger Thoney of Highland Heights, an economic consultant who has published a detailed economic and tax plan.

        • Scott Tooley of Shelby County, also in the west end of the district. A Nebraska native, Mr. Tooley is a former congressional staffer who moved to Kentucky in January.

        None of the candidates has advertised, put up yard signs or formed local campaign organizations, or appeared at any debates or forums in Northern Kentucky. The candidates are scheduled to debate on statewide television Wednesday night on KET, but Mr. Bell has said he does not plan to participate.

        Damon Thayer, vice chairman of the Kentucky GOP and a former Northern Kentucky resident, said a lack of money has hampered all three campaigns.

        None of the candidates has raised and spent more than $10,000. Meanwhile, the incumbent Mr. Lucas, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary, has raised more than $500,000.

        “I'm disappointed the candidates have not raised any money,” Mr. Thayer said. “But from what I can tell, they are going to Republican party events and meetings. They're giving their speeches to those groups, but that's about it.”

        The lack of a strong campaign is a strange posture for local Republicans to take.

        The GOP has been on a nearly 10-year run in Northern Kentucky that has seen the party take all three county judge-executive seats, two of three county courthouses and the majority in the region's statehouse caucus.

        But Mr. Lucas has voted as a moderate to conservative Democrat and enjoys support, financial and otherwise, from the business owners and leaders who often backed Republicans in past elections. His record, his incumbency and his war chest scared off most contenders, GOP insiders have privately admitted.

        Because none of the candidates is running much of a campaign, turnout could be in the single digits for the primary.

        “If we get 15 or 20 percent I'll be real surprised,” Campbell County Clerk Jack Snodgrass said.

        Given that prediction, the can didates have concentrated on targeting the kind of hard-core GOP voters often found at party events.

        All three candidates have frequently attended Republican Party gatherings. Mr. Thoney will be speaking to the Gallatin County GOP this week; Mr. Tooley met with Campbell County Republicans last week, he said.

        Voters could see some more public campaigning this week. Mr. Tooley has promised to “blanket” Northern Kentucky with campaign signs, while Mr. Bell and Mr. Thoney said they also intend to pick up the pace of their campaigns this week.

        “I think anybody who wins is going to get a big bounce, and then it's important to begin hammering on Ken Lucas right away and get out and really start campaigning,” Mr. Thayer said.

        “There can't be any down time. We'll get some coattails from George W. Bush's presidential campaign, but our nominee has to wear out a set of tires and several pairs of shoes campaigning,” he said.


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