Tuesday, December 05, 2000

What next for Lucas?

Speculation grows concerning political future

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Less than a week after U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas was mentioned as a possible member of a George W. Bush presidential administration, the Boone County Democrat has been included on a list of potential gubernatorial candidates in 2003.

        The attention is flattering, but Mr. Lucas — elected last month to a second term representing Kentucky's 4th District — is again saying thanks but no thanks.

        “I'm just really happy representing the people of the 4th District,” Mr. Lucas said Monday from his Washington office.

        “This is something that has been the highlight of my public life. Who wouldn't be flattered by the attention? But what I'm doing is fine with me.”

        The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Sunday that Mr. Lucas, along with several other Democrats, was mentioned as a possible candidate for governor during a lobbyists' retreat last week at Lake Cumberland.

        Others mentioned include former Gov. Brereton Jones, House Speaker Jody Richards, Attorney General Ben Chandler, Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, state Auditor Ed Hatchett and Louisville businessman Charlie Owen.

        Last week The Wall Street Journal carried a story that speculated Mr. Lucas could be among the Democratic members of Congress offered jobs by Mr. Bush, should he eventually win the presidency.

        Mr. Lucas played down talk of joining the Bush administration, saying he has had no contact with the Bush transition team, has not received a job offer and would not take a position even if offered.

        In Northern Kentucky, Democrats saw the article as an attempt by the Bush camp to reach out to Democrats in Washington, even as the presidential contest in Florida remains in the courts.

        But supporters seemed far more intrigued by the possibility of Mr. Lucas running in the 2003 gubernatorial primary.

        “It would be Ken's call, of course; but if he wanted to run, I would certainly support him,” said Richard Crist, a Democrat and the owner of a Florence construction firm who also has contributed money to Mr. Lucas' campaigns.

        “I like the job he's doing now, and I think he likes it,” Mr. Crist said. “But I think if he did run (for governor), he would have most of Northern Kentucky behind him.”

        Why is Mr. Lucas getting attention from both parties?

        One reason may be that he is the only Democrat to win a major race in Kentucky in last month's election. With that win Mr. Lucas continues to be the only Democrat in the state's eight-member Washington delegation.

        Mr. Lucas also stays away from hard-core partisan politics. He would not attend the Democratic National Convention because of differences he had with presidential nominee Al Gore on certain issues. And he has refused to say if he supports Mr. Gore's election contest in Florida.

        Mr. Lucas is also viewed as one of the most conservative members of Congress, giving him appeal among Reagan Democrats and many Republicans.

        “People are sick of partisan politics, they are looking for straight talk, independence and results,” said John Lapp, Mr. Lucas' chief of staff and one of his top advisers.

        Mr. Lucas enjoys political and financial support from Northern Kentucky Republicans, particularly in the business community. That support would likely continue even if Mr. Lucas were to run for governor against a GOP candidate, said Fort Mitchell developer Paul Hemmer Jr, a Republican who has contributed money to Mr. Lucas.

        “I would support him and would work to help him get elected,” Mr. Hemmer said Monday. “He has done a lot of good, and I know in the business community his knowledge and perspective ads to his credibility.”

        Republican Party leaders, however, say Mr. Lucas does not enjoy the statewide recognition or political base of other Democrats pondering a run for governor.

        “Former Gov. Jones and Ben Chandler each have a lot of support in Northern Kentucky,” said state GOP Vice Chairman Damon Thayer. “That could hurt Ken Lucas if he did run in a Democratic gubernatorial primary.”

        If Mr. Lucas were to run against a Republican, much of his local GOP support would evaporate, predicted Ed Moore, chairman of the Boone County Republican Party.


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