Sunday, July 15, 2001

Kentucky Politics

Democrat thrives in land of GOP

        U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas drives Republicans — at least the ones not voting for him — batty.

        The 4th Congressional District congressman from Boone County has won two terms as a Democrat in a district that almost always votes for Republicans. Mr. Lucas first won his seat in 1998, the same year the district's former congressman, Republican Jim Bunning of Southgate, put up a big 4th District margin in winning election to the U.S. Senate.

        Last year, Mr. Lucas easily won re-election, even as Republican George W. Bush carried the 4th District by 16 points on the way to winning the presidency.

        Republican Party leaders in Northern Kentucky and elsewhere in the state constantly are hunting for issues to use against Mr. Lucas. They dream of the day when Mr. Lucas — the only Democrat in Kentucky's Washington delegation — votes with the Democrats on high-profile issues that then can be used against the congressman in future elections.

        Mr. Lucas doesn't give the GOP many opportunities to attack him. Through a combination of representation of his conservative constituency, his largely moderate views and the political makeup of the Republican-friendly 4th District, Mr. Lucas has positioned himself as a congressman who members of both parties have grown comfortable supporting.

        Yet GOP leaders like Republican Party Chairman Damon Thayer are ready to shoot an arrow in what they believe is an Achilles' heel for Mr. Lucas.

        Mr. Lucas has taken the lead among a group of self-described moderate Democrats known as the Blue Dog Coalition in pushing for the campaign finance bill that Republican House members have bottled up on Capitol Hill.

        Mr. Lucas and his fellow Dogs especially are excited about the prospect of banning soft money — the unlimited contributions to political parties — from the system.

        “True campaign finance reform will restore to the American people their voice in the legislative process, a voice that has been drowned out in recent years by big-money donors, ” Mr. Lucas said last week during a news conference with other Blue Dogs.

        But Mr. Thayer and other GOP leaders point out some of the biggest supporters of Republican candidates, including the National Rifle Association and the anti-abortion National Right to Life, are against campaign finance reform.

        Those groups and others opposing campaign finance reform feelthink the bill will limit their voice and involvement in elections.

        And their biggest advocate is Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Louisville Republican.

        But Republicans might be a little too optimistic in their hopes that Mr. Lucas' votes favoring campaign finance reform come back to haunt him in next year's election. True, the NRA and Right to Life won't be thrilled with Mr. Lucas. But he has sided with those groups on other issues important to their members.Polls continually show voters care little about the issue.

        So backing campaign finance reform appears to be a pretty safe vote. Maybe that's why Mr. Lucas made it.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for the Enquirer. Call him at 578-5581; e-mail


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