Kentucky's 4th Congressional District runs from Louisville's eastern suburbs to the West Virginia border. Its 24 counties include Boone, Campbell and Kenton, better known as Northern Kentucky.
The district is traditionally conservative, having voted for George W. Bush over Al Gore 61-37 percent in 2000 and having elected a Republican to the congressional seat in every election between 1966 and 1998, when Democrat Ken Lucas won. Lucas retained the seat again in 2000. In 2002, he narrowly defeated Republican Geoff Davis 51-48 percent.
In 2004 Davis is again the Republican challenger, while Lucas has decided to step down after three terms, a decision he made final only after finding someone he felt could successfully run to keep the seat in Democratic hands.
A right to health care
Enter longtime Tristate broadcaster and columnist Nick Clooney. Born and raised in Maysville, Ky., Clooney, of course, brings instant name recognition.
After finishing a career in the military that found him living in various parts of the country and the world, Davis decided to put down roots so he could start a family. For the past 15 years he's lived in Northern Kentucky and since 1992 has run a manufacturing consulting firm based in Hebron.
Running as an independent is history and political science teacher Michael Slider, who was born, raised and still lives and works in Oldham County.
On the issues, Clooney and Davis don't seem that different from one another, while Slider offers a somewhat sharper contrast.
Clooney, appearing recently on Speaking Frankly on WNKU (89.7 FM), said that his potential constituents' No. 1 concern is health care. Saying it should "be a right, not a privilege," he would seek tax cuts for small businesses that provide health care, improve Medicare's prescription drug plan and allow for the re-importation of drugs from Canada.
Slider goes further, calling for a universal health care plan. Though he says that the government should protect, not provide, at this point he says there seems to be no other choice.
Clooney feels universal health care is "politically not possible" and is an idea Davis apparently doesn't even consider. Instead, the Republican candidate calls for lawsuit reform, allowing small business to form associations that would obtain health coverage, health savings accounts and tax deductions for individuals who pay their own health care.
Davis, like Slider, also thinks the government's first priority is to protect its citizens. Toward this end he calls for increasing the number of soldiers in the U.S. military by 100,000 over five years to help reduce the reliance on National Guard and reserve troops, though he doesn't favor a draft. On his Web site, Davis says, "We need more veterans in Congress who understand the consequences of national security policy."
Clooney, who served in the army, told the Speaking Frankly audience that we can't cut and run in Iraq but that the United States needs to accelerate the training of Iraqi security personnel, with our military remaining only as a back-up system.
On his Web site, Slider treats the war on terror and Iraq as two distinct issues. For the war on terror, he calls for "mending fences" by helping other less fortunate nations with issues such as clean drinking water, nutrition and medical care. In other words, win friends though acts of kindness.
As for Iraq, the independent candidate agrees we can't just up and leave. Instead he believes we should open reconstruction to competitive bidding, with preference given to local enterprises.
Set the students free
Of course, another big concern to voters both on the local and national level is jobs and the economy. Davis plans to draw on his business experience to help shape policy. He calls for making the Bush tax cuts permanent, reducing deficit spending, balancing the federal budget and less regulation of small businesses.
Seemingly on the same page, Clooney makes similar proposals but adds that he'd seek to close tax loopholes for companies that send jobs overseas. He would also seek to get the United States into better trade agreements with other nations.
Slider offers a different approach, starting at the corporate level. He wants to stop big businesses from forming political action committees, which can funnel unlimited "soft money" into political campaigns. He also calls for reviewing the system in which corporations are chartered by states. Slider points out that there was a time when such charters were revoked if a corporation were found to be operating outside the public interest.
The issue of education, Slider's evident area of expertise, is the one place all three candidates are somewhat like-minded. Davis, advancing the idea of more local control, believes the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act needs some adjustment. Clooney agrees, stating that it actually needs to be properly funded.
Paying teachers more is Slider's first proposal, which he says will help attract people to the profession who have "real world" experience. He also favors limiting the bureaucracy in education and giving families more say in the process. A surprising stance he takes is on whether education should remain mandatory.
"We must realize that an actual grassroots democracy cannot exist in a country with compulsory, government-run education," Slider says.
He emphasizes the notion that parents shoud be able to choose the schools their children attend.
It's clearly a two-horse race in the Bluegrass State's 4th Congressional District, and all indications are it'll be close.
Davis told The Lexington Herald-Leader, "This race is going to prove that Hollywood liberals and the national leaders of the Democratic Party cannot come in and buy a House seat in Northern Kentucky."
While Clooney's famous son has campaigned for him, Davis has actually raised more money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Whether that can help him negate Clooney's longtime visibility remains to be seen.
MORE INFORMATION on the candidates is available at www.geoffdavis2004.com, www.clooneyforcongress.com and www.reason2vote.com.