Lucas to Retire; George Clooney’s Father to Seek Democratic Nod

Posted November 24, 2003 at 10:33am

Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.) announced Monday that he would retire at the end of the 108th Congress, striking a major blow to House Democrats’ chances of retaking the majority they lost in 1994.

In a plot twist worthy of Hollywood, Nick Clooney, the father of actor and “K Street” producer George Clooney, is the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination in the 4th district and received Lucas’ endorsement today.

“After much soul-searching and numerous conversations with Nick Clooney, I have decided to honor my term-limits pledge,” Lucas said in a statement.

In his own statement — released simultaneously with Lucas’ — Clooney said that “because of my years in radio, television and print journalism, many in the district know me and know where I stand on issues that touch us all.”

Clooney, 69, is a newspaper columnist for the Cincinnati Post, a job he has held for the past 15 years. Prior to that he served as a television journalist in Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Buffalo and Los Angeles. Clooney also hosted a short-lived game show called “The Moneymaze” in the mid-1970s.

He remains a political unknown, however, having never before run for political office.

Clooney’s name identification and likely access to a treasure trove of Hollywood money make him an attractive candidate for Democrats, although even the strongest partisans admit the seat will be a very difficult hold.

“It’s a very tough district for us, but we think that Clooney will be a good candidate,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director Kori Bernards.

The northern Kentucky 4th district is one of the most Republican districts currently held by a Democrat in Congress.

President Bush would have taken 61 percent in the 2000 election, his second highest total in the state’s six districts. Republicans hold the other five seats.

Both 2002 nominee Geoff Davis and attorney Kevin Murphy will remain in the race on the Republican side.

“Geoff Davis is still the best person for the job and the person most likely to beat the Democrat,” said campaign manager Justin Brasell.

Jay Townsend, a consultant to the Murphy campaign, disagreed with that assessment.

“That argument is now irrelevant,” he said about Brasell’s comments. “The stakes just went up tremendously.”

After running an effective but unheralded campaign in 2002, Davis has clearly emerged as the establishment candidate this cycle.

He has been endorsed by Kentucky Reps. Ed Whitfield, Anne Northup and Ron Lewis, and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) has cut a check to him as well.

Davis ended September with $376,000 in the bank. Murphy posted a solid $253,000 cash-on-hand total at that time.

“The fact that Davis has had that sort of fundraising power in an off-year with the governor’s race going on in Kentucky shows [he] has the support to run away with the Republican primary,” said Brasell.

Lucas’ decision brings to an end more than a year of speculation about his political future.

First elected to an open seat in 1998, Lucas pledged to serve just three terms.

Lucas publicly contemplated a run against Sen. Jim Bunning (R) earlier this year before announcing that he would instead break his promise and run for a fourth term.

“As the year went on, Ken figured out that he really didn’t have the kind of energy and vitality that he wanted to go through another campaign,” said Bob Doyle, a Lucas campaign consultant. “Once Clooney and he visited, it crystallized for Ken.”

Doyle said Lucas made the decision over the summer but held off on an official announcement until the conclusion of the state’s gubernatorial race earlier this month.

That race was won by Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R). A special election to fill his vacancy is likely in late January.

Sixteen members of the House have announced their plans to either retire or run for other office in 2004. Eleven Republicans have bowed out; Lucas is the fifth Democrat to step aside.

Republicans currently hold a 12-seat majority in the House.