Clooney: I Won’t Exploit George

Posted November 26, 2003 at 1:51pm

Political columnist Nick Clooney insists that his son’s prominence in Hollywood will play little to no role in his bid for the seat of retiring Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.).

In an interview last week, Clooney, a Democrat, joked that in northern Kentucky — where he has lived most of his life — his son, George, is known as “Nick’s boy.”

“They knew me before they knew my son,” Clooney said.

Nick Clooney, 69, is a columnist for the Cincinnati Post, where he has written for the past 15 years. Prior to that he served as a television journalist in Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Buffalo, N.Y., and Los Angeles.

Clooney also hosted a game show called “The Moneymaze” in the mid-1970s. In addition to his famous son, he is the younger brother of the late singer Rosemary Clooney.

George Clooney is one of the most recognizable actors in the world and dabbled in politics recently as executive producer of “K Street,” the now-defunct HBO program designed to document the D.C. lobbying community.

“I can’t worry about what people in Washington and Hollywood are worrying about,” Nick Clooney said.

Lucas announced last 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.

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

Although Clooney has never run for political office before, he said he had been asked to run for Congress three previous times but that the timing had never been right for a campaign.

Clooney credited the “sulfurous atmosphere around elections” with providing the impetus for him to make this run, a bid that he said will be aimed at “bring[ing] some of that Kentucky family sense to the political dialogue.”

Clooney’s name identification and likely access to the treasure trove of Hollywood campaign cash make him an attractive candidate for Democrats.

“Name recognition means that I won’t have to spend the extra money required to tell people who I am,” Clooney said.

Though Clooney presents an intriguing profile, even he admits that he begins this race as the “underdog.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director Kori Bernards agreed.

“It’s a very tough district for us, but we think that Clooney will be a good candidate,” she said.

The northern Kentucky 4th 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.

Lucas’ retirement “totally changes the dynamic of the race and makes the Republican nominee an immediate favorite in this Bush district,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti.

Both 2002 nominee Geoff Davis and attorney Kevin Murphy will remain in the race on the Republican side. Former Campbell County Judge Executive Lloyd Rogers will not run and has thrown his support to Davis.

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

Presaging a likely general election campaign between Davis and Clooney, Brasell said he “looked forward to hearing what sort of positions [Clooney] is going to stake out.”

Already Republicans publicly — and Democrats privately — whisper that Clooney has taken stances in some columns that will allow him to be labeled as a liberal, including supporting gun control.

“You can pull out any column you want,” Clooney said. “I don’t agree with the Democratic hot-button issues 100 percent at all.”

Before Davis can begin a campaign against Clooney, he must defeat the surprisingly resilient Murphy in next May’s GOP primary.

“There is uncertainty in the Republican ranks,” said Lucas campaign consultant Bob Doyle. “The story is largely about Republicans not being able to get it right.”

Jay Townsend, a consultant to the Murphy campaign, said that with Lucas’ retirement “the stakes just went up tremendously.”

“This has gone from a seat that was going to be difficult to win … to a race where the Republican nominee will immediately be the prohibitive favorite,” Townsend said.

Townsend believes that as a result voters will focus on “who is closest to me, who is closer to my values, and who is closer to my positions on issues of the day.”

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

He has been endorsed by Kentucky Reps. Ed Whitfield, Anne Northup and Ron Lewis; 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 had more than $250,000 in the bank.

“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,” Brasell said.

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.

He 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,” Doyle said. “Once Clooney and he visited, it crystallized for Ken.”

Doyle said Lucas, who at 70 is just one year older than Clooney, made the decision over the summer but held off on an official announcement until the conclusion of the state’s Nov. 4 gubernatorial election.

That race was won by Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R). A special election to fill his House seat 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.