Friday, June 23, 2000

Lucas steers clear of Gore

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Democrat Al Gore was in Kentucky Tuesdaytrying to win support for his presidential campaign. But there is at least one Northern Kentucky Democrat who is not quite ready to give it, at least not in a public way:

        Fourth District Congressman Ken Lucas of Boone County.

        Running for re-election in what is considered a Republican congressional district, Mr. Lucas has been keeping his distrance from Mr. Gore, a candidate who along with President Clinton failed to carry Kentucky's 4th District in 1992 and 1996.

        “I didn't endorse in the primary, and I don't have any plans to endorse right now at all in the (presidential) race,” Mr. Lucas said Thursday from his office in Washington.

        “At this juncture, people aren't paying this much attention to presidential politics. I'm busy going to my own constituents and paddling my own canoe.”

        Mr. Gore's candidacy presents an election-year dilemma for Mr. Lucas, a Democrat who often votes with the House's Republican majority and who bills himself as a “common-sense conservative.”

        Does he stay loyal to the party he has belonged to all his life and that supports him with political contributions? Then he would eventually have to back Mr. Gore publicly.

        Or will he, as he did with Mr. Clinton during the 1998 election, stay away whenever Mr. Gore comes into the region or the state so as not to anger or alienate the 4th District's Republican and conservative Democratic voters?

        For now, it looks as if Mr. Lucas is choosing the latter and avoiding any public appearances with Mr. Gore, even though the vice president is expected to campaign heavily in Kentucky.

        Mr. Lucas even refused Thursday to answer a question about whether he intends to vote for Mr. Gore in November.

        “I'm just busy doing my own thing, and I don't want to get intertwined with other people's races,” Mr. Lucas said. “I'm running my own race and trying to take care of my constituents and issues.”

        All of Northern Kentucky is in the sprawling 4th District. It covers 22 counties, from Ashland in the east to near Louisville in the west.

        For more than 30 years Republicans held the 4th District seat, until Mr. Lucas won it in 1998. Northern Kentucky is the population and Republican core of the district.

        The campaign manager of Mr. Lucas' Republican opponent in November — Oldham County resident Don Bell — said Mr. Lucas can run but he can't hide from Mr. Gore or the record he and Mr. Clinton have established during nearly eight years in the White House.

        “Ken Lucas is running from Al Gore for the same reason he ran from Bill Clinton,” added Eric Deters, the Fort Mitchell lawyer managing Mr. Bell's campaign.

        “He knows that this district is conservative, and the voters here aren't going to support Al Gore. They are going to support (Republican) George W. Bush.

        “It's an issue, and we're going to keep making it an issue,” Mr. Deters said. Like it or not, we're going to be talking a lot about George Bush and Don Bell vs. Al Gore and Ken Lucas in this race.”

        Mr. Lucas is not alone in his strategy of staying away from Mr. Gore; other conservative Southern Democrats in Congress are also standoffish, political analyst Stuart Rothenberg noted.

        “There are plenty of Democratic candidates, particularly in the South, who represent conserva tive or Republican districts that aren't anxious for a visit from the vice president,” said Mr. Rothenberg, the editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Report, a Washington-based political newsletter.

        “That's what (Mr.) Lucas is doing. He knows that he is in a basically Republican district and he votes like a Republican on a lot of issues. I think what he is doing is a very good idea. He does not want the election to be a referendum on Al Gore.”

        Fort Thomas Democrat Terry Mann, who ran unsuccessfully for the 4th District seat against Republican Jim Bunning in 1986, said he agrees that it is wise for Mr. Lucas to “run his own campaign.”

        “Know thy district and know thyself,” Mr. Mann said Thursday.

        “Ken Lucas has been successful as a congressman because he really understands his district. Everybody always says that the 4th District is conservative, but it's really a very independent district. The voters want their representative to display independence and thoughtfulness, and I think that's what Ken does.”

        Mr. Gore, Mr. Mann said, should learn a lesson from Mr. Lucas.

        “Ken Lucas is a Democrat sending a strong message to Al Gore that he needs to be the kind of Democrat that can get out in front and win the 4th District,” Mr. Mann said.


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