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The commonwealth of Kentucky has gone to court more than once to assert its claim to all of the Ohio River up to its northern bank: This is one of the northernmost extensions of the South. The Ohio sees many different parts of Kentucky. Ashland, near the West Virginia border, is industrial, the home of Ashland Oil; the river here is bound in by tight hills that hold smoke and soot close in the air. Farther down the river, the country is more bucolic: Here Eliza fled across the ice floes in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Farther west, between Louisville and Cincinnati, are counties that still look like they’re in the 19th century. But metropolitan growth obtrudes. Oldham County, just upriver from Louisville, has some of Kentucky’s oldest homes, though the horse country is also sprouting affluent subdivisions; this is by far the most affluent county in the state. The three Northern Kentucky counties across the river from Cincinnati—Campbell, Kenton and fast-growing Boone—are urban and suburban. Overlooking the suspension bridge built by John Roebling 16 years before the Brooklyn Bridge are new buildings on the Covington waterfront while Newport is sprucing up, and office buildings and new subdivisions are rising on the hills in Boone County above the river and near the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. The airport opened a new runway in 2005 and is the second largest hub for Delta Air Lines. Newport, controlled for decades by an organized crime syndicate based in Cleveland, with its panoramic view of the Cincinnati skyline plus its entertainment and nightlife, has become a regional hot spot; local features include the aquarium, Labor Day fireworks on the river, and its hometown status for one-time Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer.
The 4th Congressional District of Kentucky spans all these variations of Ohio River country; it also includes lightly populated counties just inland. Economically, it runs the gamut from coal mining towns to rich suburbs. Politically, it has some of the most Democratic counties in America, like mountain-bound Elliott County (70%-30% for John Kerry in 2004), and some of the most Republican territory in Kentucky, like Oldham County (69%-30% for George W. Bush). The three northern Kentucky counties across the river from Cincinnati cast nearly half the district’s votes, and they too are heavily Republican; in 2004, Bush won the district, 63%-36%.
The congressman from the 4th District is Geoff Davis, a Republican elected in 2004. He grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from West Point. He was an Army ranger and served as a helicopter flight commander, then directed Army air operations enforcing the peace between Israel and Egypt. After 11 years in the Army, he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, then to Northern Kentucky, where in 1992 he started a consulting firm that advised companies on how to streamline manufacturing technology. In 2002 he ran against Congressman Ken Lucas, a conservative Democrat first elected in 1998; Davis lost 51%-48% after receiving very little assistance from the national party. After some hesitation, Lucas decided to honor his pledge to serve only three terms and announced his retirement in November 2003.
That left Davis the frontrunner in this heavily Republican district in 2004, but he still faced a formidable challenge from Democrat Nick Clooney, a locally famous newspaper columnist and television commentator, and the father of actor George Clooney and the brother of the late singer Rosemary Clooney. Through his son’s Hollywood connections, Nick Clooney got checks from Paul Newman, Kevin Costner and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Davis said his opponent had more in common with the people of Southern California than with those in northern Kentucky, and national Republicans called the Democrat, “Looney Clooney.” Clooney said he was a moderate and supported the Bush tax cuts and opposed same-sex marriage and abortion except when the mother’s life was in danger. The Davis campaign unearthed columns Clooney had written over a period of 15 years, including a 1998 column in which he had criticized gun ownership; Davis, by contrast, said he was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association membership and supported gun ownership rights. Davis had a big fundraising advantage: he spent $2.6 million to Clooney's $1.5 million. Clooney won rural and mining areas in the eastern end of the district, but Davis carried the three Cincinnati-area suburban counties and won the race 54%-44%.
Davis got seats on the Armed Services and Financial Services Committees, which catered to his experience and provided him a platform for his first major achievement as a freshman. In 2006, President Bush signed into law Davis’s bill to protect military personnel from being sold overpriced insurance and investment products. He initially opposed Senate language that would cap interest rates on “payday” loans, but reversed his position and supported the cap in a defense bill after stories about a donation he had taken from a payday loan chain owner generated criticism.
In January 2006, Democrats succeeded in recruiting former congressman Lucas for a rematch. Lucas, a conservative who opposed abortion, gay marriage and gun control, held the district for three terms and previously served as Boone County judge-executive. The race had the attention of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose executive director, John Lapp, had previously served as Lucas’s campaign manager. Republicans promptly criticized Lucas for not passing a single freestanding bill during his earlier tenure in Congress. Davis, usually a reliable vote for Bush administration policies, distanced himself from Bush by saying he strongly disagreed with the White House on Social Security private accounts, immigration and port security. But Lucas had difficulty tapping into national anti-Republican sentiment or disenchantment with the Iraq war. (Lucas had voted for the Iraq invasion, which he later said he regretted.) Davis attempted to make the race a referendum on who could be more effective in Congress. He also criticized Lucas for urging a judge to give a lighter sentence to John Finnan, a banker involved in a building scandal. Davis spent nearly three times as much as Lucas and got the endorsement of Democratic Covington Mayor Butch Callery, who appeared in a commercial for him. He also focused his voter turnout program on the populous suburban Cincinnati counties of Boone, Kenton and Campbell, as well as Oldham County, outside of Louisville. On Election Day, Davis carried all four–while losing 15 of the district’s 24 counties–to win 52%-43%. Davis has now won two tough races in this Republican district; it will take a strong Democratic candidate to seriously challenge him again.
Armed Services (26th of 29 R) Oversight & Investigations; Air & Land Forces.
Financial Services (25th of 33 R) Housing & Community Opportunity; Capital Markets, Insurance & Government Sponsored Enterprises; Financial Institutions & Consumer Credit.