News: Republican Row

Fighting for the right to face Clooney in Kentucky congressional race

Jymi Bolden

Kevin Murphy (left) and Geoff Davis (below), GOP candidates in the May 18 congressional primary, support the war on Iraq, oppose gay marriages and want abortion made illegal.

Kevin Murphy wants troops along the borders with Canada and Mexico. Geoff Davis wants the Constitution to define fertilization as the start of "personhood."

Republicans in Northern Kentucky won't find it easy to determine which candidate in the May 18 congressional primary is more conservative. Both oppose same-sex marriage. Both support the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The candidates have differences, especially in campaign styles. Davis, a West Point graduate and student of history, can come across as stiff.

"I'll take a sip of beer, and he thinks anybody who does that has 666 written across his forehead," Murphy says.

A former New York City truck driver who worked his way through law school, Murphy sometimes has difficulty concealing his zeal in running against the establishment candidate. He's lately questioned his opponent's campaign finance practices, causing Davis to cry foul.

"This is the desperate move of a desperate man without support," Davis says.

Both candidates have a knack for overstatement.

"My wife thinks CityBeat is really cool," Davis says. "She picks it up every week at Kroger's."

Problem: Kroger banned CityBeat years ago.

Murphy criticizes the new prescription drug benefit for Medicare.

"You're paying for Hugh Hefner's Viagra, Walter Cronkite's Rogaine and Rodney Dangerfield's anti-depressant," Murphy says.

Problem: Rogaine doesn't require a prescription.

Saddam and me
Don't make too much of Geoff Davis' name. Yes, it's nearly identical to that of the president of the Confederacy. However, a lesser-known Jefferson Davis was a general in the Union army, as candidate Davis likes to points out.

Davis has lots of friends in minority groups. In the course of a one-hour interview, he allows that he has "friends who are gay," many Arab-American friends, a "close personal" African-American friend and even a "South Asian-American" friend.

During the interview, he offers a chair to a photographer, an African-American man, who declines to sit. As the interview continues, Davis becomes visibly nervous. He finally jumps up and insists on giving his chair to the photographer.

"I'm feeling very intimidated by your standing over me," he says.

A Pittsburgh native who moved to Kentucky after his military service, Davis nearly upset U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Richwood) in 2002. A former Army Ranger and helicopter pilot who started a business consulting firm, he's running with endorsements from many Republican leaders.

"Every Republican member of the U.S. House is supporting me," he says.

But Davis isn't one of those born-to-the-manor Republicans.

"I grew up without a dad," he says. "I met my father when I was 24."

A longtime volunteer in Kentucky prisons, Davis says personal involvement — not government programs — is the key to solving social problems.

"The relationship is the solution," he says. "The only way you get change is from relationships. I hear a lot of people thumping their chests about their community service. They'll talk about the 25 boards they serve on. My question is, how many kids have you talked to? What about prisoners who are illiterate and addicted to drugs? I bet you didn't expect to hear a conservative Republican talking about relationships. That's who I am."

The father of six, Davis flew missions over Iraq after the first Gulf War.

"Saddam Hussein became part of my life in 1984, when I became a flight commander in the 82nd Airborne Division," he says. "I distinctly remember the thorough briefings we received on his chemical weapons and biological weapons capability."

He likewise remembers whence he came.

"I come from a very humble background," Davis says. "My wife and I have never lost our roots. I'm not so much a boardroom kind of guy. I like to be out there in the trenches. The kind of role models who changed my life was the foreman of the job when I went to work as a janitor when I was 16. I'm not even going to tell you what race he was. He wasn't white, I'll tell you that."

Immigrants and terror
Murphy also peddles his common touch. He talks about the role low air fares played in his attending Chase Law School while commuting to New York on weekends to keep his part-time job.

"I played softball with my homeboys on Fridays and worked two shifts on Saturday," he says. "Chase gave many people without Roman numerals after their names a chance to get a law degree. I know what it's like to miss a meal. I know what it's like to be broke."

Several years ago Murphy took on industrial behemoth Martin Marietta Materials, fighting a proposed mine that would have meant 1,200 truck trips and 14 dynamite blasts across the street from a church in Bullitsburg, Ky., he says. Murphy represented the church pro bono.

"They have been worshipping at the same place since 1794, when George Washington was president," Murphy says. "Three years, three appeals, 3-0. Bye-bye, Martin Marietta."

That fight is emblematic of the kind of congressman Murphy says he'd be.

"My job as a congressman, if the people honor me with the job, is to keep the communities that are doing well thriving and to go to the places that aren't and looking for ways to lift them up," he says. "Ashland Oil doesn't need a congressman. They're doing fine. Go 40 miles down the AA Highway and look at the poverty."

With Davis having locked down most of the institutional support within the GOP, Murphy has had to distinguish himself by being more conservative, perhaps more combative. For example, he prides himself in having opposed the Bush Administration's Medicare reform. He out-Bushes Bush in taking on such vaunted institutions as the United Nations.

"I'm tired of $3 billion of my tax money going to an organization that props up nations like Syria and Libya," he says.

Murphy's campaign Web site raises the question of terrorism and answers by denouncing the presence of undocumented workers — "more than 8 million illegal immigrants in the United States that broke our laws to get here and break our laws by being here."

Murphy hasn't hesitated to attack Davis, criticizing him in the very terms Davis has already rejected.

"One of the major differences between Geoff Davis and myself is I've spent most of my life serving, especially poor people," Murphy says. "He moved here four years ago and ran for Congress — no boards, no nothing. How can you represent people when you don't walk among them?"

If Davis runs the risk of seeming dour, Murphy dances on the line between sincere and precious.

"Our lord and savior sent me to this earth as a servant," he says. "I'm not ashamed to tell you I've shed a lot of tears in this conference room, a lot of tears, a lot of tears."

John King, a chiropractor in Union, is also on the GOP ballot. The winner of the May 18 primary faces Nick Clooney, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Lucas, the only Democrat in Kentucky's congressional delegation, isn't seeking re-election. ©

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