In Kentucky's 4th, Democrats Are Banking on a Familiar Face

Democrat Ken Lucas represented Kentucky's 4th District before retiring in 2004.
Democrat Ken Lucas represented Kentucky's 4th District before retiring in 2004. "These voters know me," he said of his chances of winning again. (By Leigh Patton -- The Enquirer)
By Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 25, 2006

RICHWOOD, Ky. -- In a colonial mansion on a hill, a silver-haired Southern gentlemen named Ken Lucas is looking to rise to power. Again.

Two years after leaving Congress -- at the time, he was certain it was for good -- Lucas is back, asking some of Boone County's richest doctors, lawyers and businessmen to help finance a political resurrection. "If I am lucky enough to go back -- and with the grace of God, we might get there -- we will do the right thing," he promised a gathering of local elites at the home of millionaire philanthropist R.C. Durr and his wife, Deborah Jo Durr, on Saturday night.

Lucas, 73, is a courtly and conservative Southern Democrat seeking to oust Rep. Geoff Davis (R) in Kentucky's 4th Congressional District. Lucas, who held this seat from 1998 until his retirement in 2004, is also one of nine Democrats in key House races making another run at a Republican they challenged at least once before.

They are the do-it-again Democrats, a key to their party's strategy of winning back the House.

The Ohio River Valley is full of them. Across the river in Ohio, Democrat John Cranley is running in the 1st District against GOP Rep. Steve Chabot, who beat him six years ago. In neighboring Indiana's 9th District, former Democratic congressman Baron Hill is challenging Rep. Mike Sodrel, who beat him by about 1,400 votes in 2004. (That race was itself a rematch: Hill had defeated Sodrel in 2002.) Also in Indiana, Joe Donnelly is seeking a do-over in the 2nd District against GOP Rep. Chris Chocola, who defeated him in 2004.

These Democrats are banking on their experience and name recognition -- some voters mistakenly think they won last time -- to reverse their fortunes. But recent history is against them. Since 1996, only three of the 33 challengers have won rematches.

Here in the booming suburbs of Cincinnati, Lucas, who grew up on a tobacco farm in Grant County, is running like he never left Congress. "Return Ken Lucas to Congress" billboards are ubiquitous. The not-so-subtle purpose is to present Lucas as an incumbent who deserves another term.

Sitting in the living room of the mansion, as Democratic donors swirled around him, Lucas said many voters believe he ran and won in 2004. "It is the same old drill," he said. "I know what to do and how to do it."

His connections have helped him quickly raise more than $1 million and jump out to an early lead in public polls.

Davis is no stranger to rerun candidacies. After taking 48 percent against Lucas in 2002, Davis announced his plans for a rematch on election night. Davis, a former Army Ranger, said his military buddies joked: "You didn't lose -- you just got recycled."

He never got the chance to test himself against Lucas, as the Democrat decided against seeking a fourth term. "Walking away from a fight is called losing," Davis taunted.

With the incumbent gone, Davis easily beat Nick Clooney, father of actor and sometime-activist George Clooney, and seemed ready to hold this district for the foreseeable future.

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