Races of the Week:Davis vs. Clooney

It has been said in Kentucky’s 4th District that Geoff Davis helped keep Democratic Rep. Ken Lucas on the straight and narrow by persuading him to honor his original pledge and retire this year after three terms. In ’02, as the Republican nominee against Lucas, Hebron businessman Davis was edged out by less than 2% of the vote. Although Lucas had publicly mused about breaking his three-term pledge and running again in ’04, the political handwriting was on the wall: He had almost been downed at Davis’s hands and, while no defeated congressman has ever had his loss traced directly to breaking the terms-limits pledge, there could well be a first time–especially after such a close call. Hard pressed, Lucas chose to retire.

And Davis? Having made clear his intention to run again soon after he conceded defeat last year, the West Point graduate and onetime U.S. Army assault pilot won a hotly contested primary convincingly. In a district that was Republican from 1964 until Lucas’s first election in ’98, a Davis triumph seemed inevitable.

Or did it? Almost as soon as Lucas sang his swan song, reporters began buzzing excitedly about the new Democratic hopeful: Nick Clooney, venerable local TV newscaster, host of TV’s “American Movie Classics,” the man everyone called on to emcee banquets and serve as grand marshal of parades from the outskirts of Louisville to Northern Kentucky’s Cincinnati suburbs to the border of West Virginia. Although he may be known to most of the world as “George’s Dad” or “Rosemary’s brother,” the 69-year-old Clooney is well known all on his own in the 4th District. (One “rural legend” about him is about the Kentucky woman who explained to her daughter that she watched “E.R.” because “Nick Clooney’s boy stars in it.”)

But beyond the silver hair, friendly demeanor, and famous name, the hard facts are that Nick Clooney is a committed leftist, his views laid out in decades of columns in the Kentucky Post. “Guns do not protect us from our government,” went a typical Clooney salvo (Kentucky Post, March 27, 1998), “They kill our children.”

To no one’s surprise, Clooney gets the bulk of his campaign dollars from Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Pacific Palisades, and Hollywood. $2,000 donors include Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey, Paul Newman, Michael Douglas, Bette Midler, and Chuck (“The Gong Show”) Barris. The $1,000 donors include Drew Barrymore, Steven Spielberg, and Norman Lear. Among $500 donors are Andy Garcia and Courtney Cox Arquette.

You get the picture: Along with his charisma and local following, Nick Clooney has, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “a politically inclined, savvy son who clearly has the means and the well-placed contacts to help make it happen for his father.”

Geoff Davis has none of these outside assets, but he makes up for them with hard work, plain speaking, and fitting in with the district’s conservatism on cultural as well as economic issues. In voicing his support for the President on the war on terrorism and tax cuts, Davis also adds his disagreement with him on spending. “We should be more prudent in government spending and subject that prescription drug package Congress passed to means-testing. And we’re wasting billions on social welfare programs.”

No, the plain-spoken businessman-veteran is no superstar a la Nick Clooney. He’s not slick, but good–and he’s conservative.