By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ERLANGER - Democratic U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas held off a challenge from Republican Geoff Davis to win a third term in Congress in a race that was bitter to the end.
With all of the 4th Congressional District precincts reporting, Mr. Lucas had 51.5 percent of the vote, while Mr. Davis had 47.2 percent. Libertarian John Grote of Fort Wright finished with 1.4 percent.
Mr. Davis, a political neophyte who was unknown in Northern Kentucky when he entered the race in the summer of 2001, ran a surprisingly strong race that Mr. Lucas complained was heavy on negative advertising and distortions of his record.
Mr. Lucas' anger was apparent during his victory party Tuesday at the Airport Holiday Inn in Erlanger.
After claiming victory before a roomful of family and supporters, he refused to take a concession phone call from Mr. Davis.
"I am very upset with how he represented my record," said an agitated Mr. Lucas. "I don't want to be a sore loser, I mean a sore winner, but this guy totally misrepresented our position.
"He told me when we first started that he would talk about the issue," Mr. Lucas said. "And he did anything but that. He criticized the way I dress. He criticized my age. He's trashed me on the campaign trail. They tore down (campaign) signs everywhere in the district."
Boone County GOP political consultant Marc Wilson, an adviser to the Davis campaign, called Mr. Lucas' refusal to take Mr. Davis' phone call "totally and utterly classless."
Mr. Lucas, who has supported much of the Bush administration agenda, said Mr. Davis' campaign was negative because he did not get stronger backing from the president.
While Mr. Bush campaigned for other Republicans around the country, he did not make an appearance in the 4th District.
"I'm sure they were very frustrated that I did have a good working relationship with the president," Mr. Lucas said.
"This was one of the few competitive races, maybe the only one, where the president didn't come in."
Mr. Davis ran campaign ads, mainly in the Greater Cincinnati television market, that criticized Mr. Lucas' voting record in Congress.
Mr. Lucas said the ads distorted and misrepresented his record.
Still, Mr. Davis easily carried all three Northern Kentucky counties, including Boone County, where both candidates live but where Mr. Lucas had spent years in local government.
"Negative campaigning works," Mr. Lucas said. "People don't like it, but it works. You tell the big lie long enough and people ... believe that crap."
Mr. Lucas said he did not expect to win Northern Kentucky, a region once dominated by Democrats that now heavily favors Republican candidates.
"We don't expect to win Northern Kentucky, we just try to get close," Mr. Lucas said. "And we knew that Boone County would be a blowout for us. All the people that move in there are rich and Republican, and they don't know me."
Mr. Davis carried Boone County with 58 percent of the vote, compared with 40 percent for Mr. Lucas. Mr. Davis carried Kenton County with 52 percent, compared with 45 percent for Mr. Lucas, and Campbell County - which Mr. Lucas had never lost - by the same margin.
"The people that know Ken Lucas best, the people from Northern Kentucky, trust him the least," Mr. Wilson said.
Both camps spent a long night waiting for returns from Oldham County, which is on the far western end of the district, near Louisville. An apparent malfunction in voting tabulation equipment held up the final results until after 11 p.m.
"I believe we are going to fall a little bit short," Mr. Davis told a crowd of about 500 cheering supporters at the Drawbridge Inn in Fort Mitchell. "But let me tell you something, this race has been reinvigorating for my faith in American democracy ... and I want to thank everyone for their support."
Mr. Davis then gave a clear message to other Northern Kentucky Republicans who have been considering running for the seat in 2004, when Mr. Lucas has said he will retire.
"I want to say something tonight for anybody else out there who is thinking about" running in two years, Mr. Davis said. "We are announcing tonight for 2004."
Mr. Lucas also repeatedly thanked his supporters during a brief victory speech.
"When I look out there and see my supporters, every one of you played a part in this campaign and can share a part of this victory," said Mr. Lucas said. "I am so grateful. You made this happen."
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