Sunday, November 10, 2002

What if Bush had stumped for Davis?

After all, the president endorsed him over Lucas - or did he?

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It is a question Republicans will ponder as long as they talk about this year's narrow 4th District U.S. House race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas and Republican challenger Geoff Davis.

What if President Bush, who used his considerable popularity and tireless stump schedule to help Republicans win Congressional seats across the country, had come into the 4th District to campaign for Mr. Davis?

Would an appearance by the president have given Mr. Davis of Hebron a victory in a race he lost by less than 4 percentage points to the two-term incumbent?

Campaign handlers on both sides of the race agreed that had Mr. Bush openly supported Mr. Davis, the results of Tuesday's election could have been different.

"Absolutely, it would have changed things," said Boone County GOP consultant Marc Wilson, who advised the Davis campaign.

"Bush comes in, it gives Geoff Davis a bump and we're looking at a Republican congressman now instead of a Democrat."

Missed impact, and a win

Ben Davis, Mr. Lucas' campaign manager, wouldn't go so far. But he did admit that had Mr. Bush made a campaign swing on behalf of Mr. Davis "it could have had a major impact" on the race.

Mr. Lucas won with 51 percent of the vote, compared to 47.5 for Mr. Davis. Libertarian John Grote of Fort Wright carried the remainder of the vote.

"I would say Bush helped in at least 10 races around the country, especially in the Senate," Ben Davis said. "But the bottom line is he stayed out of the race here."

University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato agreed, saying Mr. Bush was a major reason Republicans mostly carried the day across the country last Tuesday.

"I think you can definitely credit Bush with the Republicans holding the House and taking the Senate," Mr. Sabato said.

"And I have to think that in a race as tight as the 4th District in Kentucky, he moves some voters by coming in the district and supporting Geoff Davis."

Mr. Bush let it be known that he wanted Republicans to support Mr. Davis.

But the president never fully embraced the first-time candidate from Boone County.

Earlier this year the White House issued a statement that Mr. Bush supported Mr. Davis for the seat.

But in doing so, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bush made it clear the endorsement was not meant as a slam on Mr. Lucas and that it was only being made because Mr. Davis was the Republican nominee.

That may have had more to do with Mr. Lucas than Mr. Davis himself.

As a "blue-dog" Democrat, Mr. Lucas has been one of President Bush's strongest supporters, voting on the Democratic side of the aisle.

The president, Mr. Lucas has said, is a loyal man.

While Mr. Bush did tell voters that day to support Mr. Davis, he still did not come into the 4th District, despite being just miles away from its western border of Oldham County.

During a campaign stop in Louisville the Friday before the election, Mr. Bush made his second visit on behalf of U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, a Republican who held her seat against a tough challenge from Democrat Jack Conway.

Finally, on the day before the election, many Republican voters throughout the 24-county 4th District received a recorded phone call from the president reminding them to support the GOP's ticket.

None of the candidates on the ballot, Mr. Davis included, was mentioned.

Party faithful frustrated

Mr. Wilson said it was "frustrating" to see the president campaigning for so many Republicans but staying away from Mr. Davis.

"Who knows what kind of deal was cut" between Mr. Lucas and the White House, Mr. Wilson mused.

Republicans have long insisted that Mr. Lucas - who did support the president on many major bills in Congress - traded a vote for the promise that Mr. Bush would not visit the 4th District during the campaign.

GOP speculation is that the deal was made on Trade Promotion Authority, or fast track, a bill opposed by labor unions that gave Mr. Bush greater powers to negotiate trade agreements with foreign governments.

During a KET debate in late October, Mr. Lucas denied making any deals with the White House.

"Ken Lucas has a voting record that the White House appreciates," his campaign manager, Ben Davis, said.

Democrats contend that Mr. Lucas won a third term last week because of his conservative voting record, his long history of government and public service in Northern Kentucky and name recognition among voters.

Rural voters went for Lucas

Ben Davis points to a political anomaly in the race.

"Normally you see Republicans doing better in the rural areas than in the suburbs," he said.

"But Geoff Davis actually ran strong in the suburbs while Ken Lucas carried almost every rural county. This is probably the only race in the country like that."

Indeed, Mr. Davis smacked Mr. Lucas in his home base of Northern Kentucky, where a majority of voters in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties all went with Mr. Davis.

But Mr. Lucas carried all but five of the district's 24 counties, including all of the rural counties with the exception of Lewis County in eastern Kentucky, a lone island of GOP support in what is traditionally Democratic country.

Ben Davis said Mr. Lucas' endorsement from the National Rifle Association, his support of farm-related issues and his Kentucky roots - Mr. Lucas grew up on a Grant County farm while Mr. Davis moved to Kentucky a decade ago - made the difference.

With a larger campaign fund, Mr. Lucas was also able to begin advertising on television earlier in the eastern part of the district, where Mr. Davis was trying to cut into the incumbent's support.

And Mr. Davis never did advertise in the Lexington TV market, which serves new counties added to the district this year when legislative boundaries were redrawn.

"We advertised there and won every county in that area," Ben Davis said of the Lucas campaign's media strategy.

Mr. Wilson mentioned some interesting developments not usually found in traditional congressional campaigns.

For instance, because of the fast track vote, Mr. Davis picked up support of labor unions while business interests backed Mr. Lucas.

"How many races do you see where (labor leader) Jimmy Hoffa is making phone calls on behalf of the Republican and the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling for the Democrat?" he said.


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