Sunday, July 16, 2000

Lucas' camp spinning worry


Bush's strong numbers reveal new side of re-election team

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        EDGEWOOD — There is something wrong — terribly wrong, I tell you — in the re-election camp of U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas.

        The talented gang guiding the re-election bid of the Boone County Democrat is actually acknowledging that Mr. Lucas is facing a problem given GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush's huge lead in a recent 4th District poll.

        What's the matter? Where's the dismissive bluster? The hype? The aggressive shots at the other side? The dodge-the-question-with-a-counterattack strategy? This is the same group that put out so much spin in Mr. Lucas' 1998 campaign it could have dried clothes.

        But now the Democrats are hunkering down and admitting that Mr. Bush could present problems for Mr. Lucas come November. It's called the coattail effect: congressional candidates piggybacking on their party's presidential front-runner.

        “The Republicans are upbeat, and I don't blame them,” said Bob Doyle, Mr. Lucas' Washington campaign consultant and fund-raiser.

        “We know (Mr. Bush's potential coattail) is out there, and we'll deal with it,” said John Lapp, Mr. Lucas' chief of staff.

        What gives? Is this some new radical political tactic the Lucas campaign is employing in trying to hold off what so far has been a meager challenge from Oldham County Republican Don Bell?

        Mr. Lucas' campaign team isn't usually in the mode of admitting an opponent's strength.

        But with the Bell campaign betting its wad on riding Mr. Bush's coattails to victory, and with Mr. Bush racking up a 32-point lead over Democrat Al Gore in a recent 4th District poll, the Lucas contingent says it is taking its November challenge seriously.

        “We're concerned about dealing with the issues the coattails might create,” Mr. Doyle said Friday. “We're going to run a vigorous, tough, aggressive campaign. We will not take any of this for granted.”

        The Democrats are buoyed by results two years ago, when U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning — a Northern Kentucky favorite and a Southgate Republican in the 4th District for 12 years — was on the ballot along with Mr. Lucas.

        “Ken Lucas won this district at the same time that Jim Bunning won the top of the ticket by 20 points,'' said Travis Sowders, Mr. Lucas' campaign manager.

        “That having been said, we're under no illusions that Al Gore is going to win this district,” Mr. Sowders said. “... We're going to work hard to make sure the voters know that Ken Lucas shares their values.”

        This week Mr. Lucas will an nounce that he has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his re-election campaign. Mr. Bell has yet to raise much money.

        Interestingly, that presents another problem for the Lucas team.

        Mr. Bell is not garnering the money or buzz that Republican Gex (Jay) Williams, Mr. Lucas' 1998 opponent, did. That means less interest in the race from voters the Democrats will need.

        “What we don't have in this election is an opponent like Gex Williams making the kind of noise he did in 1998,” Mr. Doyle explained. “So we're going to have to be aggressive to make sure people know there is a contest going on this year in the 4th District.”

        Knowing the Lucas camp, that's no spin.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics. He can be reached at 578-5581, or by e-mail at crowleys@cinci.infi.net.

       



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