Clooney’s Star Turn For Dad

Posted February 20, 2004 at 6:02pm

Former television news anchor Nick Clooney (D) is calling on his celebrity son to help raise money for his bid for the open seat of retiring Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.).

Actor George Clooney will hold an event March 6 at his home in Studio City, Calif., and then travel to Kentucky for a fundraiser March 20 in the 4th district and March 21 in Louisville with Mayor Jerry Abramson (D).

“We felt this was the most appropriate way to ask [George] to help,” said Bob Doyle, a consultant to the Clooney campaign.

Informed of the scheduled fundraisers, Republicans argued that Nick Clooney’s association with his son, who has repeatedly criticized President Bush, will hurt his image in the eyes of voters.

“The Clooneys have their George, and we have ours — George W. Bush,” said Justin Brasell, spokesman for attorney Geoff Davis, the leading Republican candidate for the seat. “George W. Bush is supporting our campaign and is a lot more popular in the 4th district of Kentucky.”

George Clooney drew significant criticism from Republicans for comparing Bush to Tony Soprano, the fictional Mafia boss on “The Sopranos” television show.

But Doyle dismissed the potential backlash that having the actor into the conservative-leaning northern Kentucky district might have on Nick Clooney’s candidacy.

“These are not town hall meetings, they are not George coming in talking about his views on issues,” explained Doyle. “We don’t believe voters in the district will assign any of the beliefs and activism of his son to Nick.”

Whether or not Nick Clooney’s candidacy is affected by his famous son, Democrats acknowledge that holding the 4th district is a difficult task.

President Bush would have taken 61 percent there in 2000, and prior to Lucas’ 1998 open-seat win, Republicans had held the seat since 1967.

Despite that GOP tilt, Republicans were unable to field a strong challenge to Lucas until 2002, when Davis held the incumbent to a 51 percent to 48 percent victory.

Davis never stopped campaigning after that near miss and received a major boost when, after initially breaking his three-term-limit pledge, Lucas reversed course and announced last November that he would retire from Congress.

Davis quickly lined up significant institutional support, including the endorsements of the entire Republican House delegation from Kentucky. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) cut Davis a check, although the NRCC is officially neutral in the contest.

Attorney Kevin Murphy is also running for the Republican nomination.

Davis’ fundraising has clearly benefited from the Republican establishment support. Through Dec. 31, 2003, he had raised $870,000, including $355,000 in the final three months of the year. Davis contributed $151,000 of his own money to the campaign during that period. He ended the year with $503,000 in the bank.

Murphy has done surprisingly well on the fundraising front for a first-time candidate. He raked in $403,000 in 2003, a total boosted by $89,000 in personal loans.

As of Dec. 31, Murphy had $310,000 on hand to spend in the May 11 primary.

Unlike the two Republican candidates, Clooney’s fundraising has not wowed thus far.

He showed just $53,000 raised from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, his first three months of active fundraising.

The three events with his son fall just before the March 31 reporting deadline for first-quarter fundraising and will give Clooney’s campaign treasury a shot in the arm.

Candidates must file reports detailing their contributions and expenditures in the first three months with the Federal Election Commission by April 15.

The fundraiser at Clooney’s home requires individuals to contribute $4,000, the maximum allowable under the law, while political action committees must pony up $10,000.

The two Kentucky events have a minimum contribution of $1,000.

“We will not have a problem with a lack of funding,” said Doyle. “At the end of the day we are going to be north of $1.5 million in total spending.”

Lucas spent $1.45 million to Davis’ $874,000 in 2002.

Democrats argue that because of his previous professional background, Clooney begins with high name identification and a level of trust among 4th district residents that most first-time candidates do not enjoy.

Clooney was a columnist for The Cincinnati Post 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 having a famous son, he is the younger brother of the late singer Rosemary Clooney.

“Nick Clooney is a person with Kentucky roots and someone who folks in Kentucky know as a local activist and leader,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director Kori Bernards.

The NRCC and the eventual Republican nominee, however, are likely to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars ensuring that voters see Clooney more as a national Democrat with ties to Hollywood, a major source of funding for the party.

Brasell gave a hint of that strategy, arguing that Clooney is “having a great deal of trouble finding financial support in the 4th district of Kentucky, so it is no surprise he is turning to his liberal Hollywood friends to fund this race.”

That sentiment was echoed by Murphy.

“The more the Hollywood crowd comes in for Nick Clooney, the better it is for the Republican Party,” he said. “George Clooney makes Sean Penn look like Sean Hannity .”