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Rep. Lucas to Seek Re-election

Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.) announced Friday that he will seek re-election to his 4th district seat, simultaneously breaking his term-limits pledge and providing Democrats with an early boost in their quest to make gains in the House next year.

Calling the term-limits movement “all but ended,” Lucas said in a statement that he felt a “responsibility to commit myself to see our national challenges through.”

Lucas pledged to serve only three terms when he was elected to an open seat in 1998.

House Democrats heaved a collective sigh of relief at Lucas’ decision as he is seen as the one Democratic candidate able to hold the GOP-tilting seat.

“We are delighted he is running for reelection,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Burns Strider.

Lucas’ announcement, however, deprives Democrats of an obvious candidate for Senate in 2004.

Lucas’ decision was “crystallized” following President Bush’s State of the Union address last week, said Lucas consultant Bob Doyle.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also played a critical role in Lucas’ choice, according to Doyle.

“Absent the efforts of Steny Hoyer, this decision might not have been as easy for Ken,” he said.

Hoyer met with Lucas a number of times over the past few weeks and will hold a fundraiser in late February or early March to help Lucas retire the $17,000 debt he accumulated in the 2002 race and kick off his re-election bid, according to Doyle.

“Ken and I talked about the contributions that he can give his constituents and the country,” Hoyer said about their discussions.

There was some concern among Democratic strategists that the ascension of liberal Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to the position of Minority Leader might alienate Lucas, one of the most conservative members of the party.

Shortly after the election, Lucas flirted with the idea of switching parties. And he was one of three House Democrats to vote “present” rather than support Pelosi in last month’s vote for speaker — Texas Reps. Ralph Hall and Charlie Stenholm were the others. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) voted for Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

Lucas’ name had also been floated as a potential challenger to Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) in 2004.

“I don’t think he really considered the Senate aggressively once we got past the November elections and the Republicans took control again,” Doyle said.

The GOP picked up two seats in November, bringing them to a 51-seat majority.

Once considered one of the most vulnerable Republican Senators up for re-election in 2004, Bunning has no clear challenger at this point.

With Lucas out and Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton (D) not expected to run after revelations last year that he had had a sexual affair with a state employee, the Democratic field is highly volatile.

The two candidates most mentioned are Charlie Owen, a wealthy businessman running for lieutenant governor in 2003, and state Treasurer Jonathan Miller, who made an unsuccessful run for the 6th district seat in 1998.

Steve Henry, the current lieutenant governor, is also considered a potential Senate candidate.

Although Lucas’ decision to run for a fourth House term gives Democrats a decent chance of retaining the seat, it is unlikely to dissuade Republicans from challenging him.

“Ken Lucas is one of Congress’ most reliable underachievers,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Steve Schmidt, who pointed out that Lucas sponsored only one bill in the 107th Congress. “His broken promise and the lack of character it demonstrates are sure to be an issue,” Schmidt said.

Already, 2002 nominee Geoff Davis and attorney Kevin Murphy have announced for the contest, and Campbell County Judge-Executive Steve Pendery is expected to announce his intention to run this week.

Republicans’ eagerness is largely rooted in the district’s demographics, which clearly favor the GOP.

Bush would have won 61 percent of the vote in the 2000 election, his second-strongest showing in the state’s six districts. The other five seats are held by Republicans.

Davis, a businessman who won 48 percent last cycle, said his campaign “had planned for this contingency and from our perspective it doesn’t affect us one bit.”

Doyle, Lucas’ consultant, wasted little time in laying into Davis.

“We can’t wait to get at him,” said Doyle. He added that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the architect of the Republican renaissance in the state, has already shown his “lack of confidence” in Davis.

Days after the 2002 election, McConnell made the unusual decision of endorsing his former chief of staff, Hunter Bates, for the 4th district race.

Although Bates decided against the race and is now running for lieutenant governor, Doyle said McConnell’s action reveals the “major doubts among the Republican establishment in Kentucky” about Davis.

Davis rejected Doyle’s reading of the circumstances.

“Those are statements of spin coming out of their camp,” said Davis, who noted that he appeared with McConnell in a 45,000-piece mailing at the end of the 2002 campaign.

“I have eminent respect for the Senator,” said Davis. “I am grateful for his assistance.”

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