Outside the Beltway
In Ohio Valley, Democrats Feel Fallout
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 1998; Page A33
LEXINGTON, Ky., Sept. 10 Democratic congressional candidates in this political battleground are struggling to craft a strategy to prevent the scandal engulfing President Clinton from fatally undermining their campaigns.
And that is proving especially difficult for the non-incumbents.
Many of the Democrats here are moderates in the mold of Bill Clinton and they are particularly disturbed and angered by the actions of a man who has been the leader not only of their party, but of their wing of the party.
"I feel betrayed by him," said former Kentucky attorney general Chris Gorman, a centrist challenging Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.) in one of the most Democratic districts in the region.
With the possibility of impeachment dominating the domestic agenda, only one of the six Democratic challengers or open-seat candidates in this section of the Ohio River Valley, considered ground zero in the fight for control of the House, has developed a strategy to stay ahead of the strife.
The rest find themselves increasingly distracted from the business of winning these highly competitive seats.
Take, for example, Ernesto Scorsone, a personable and idealistic state senator who won the Democratic congressional nomination for the Kentucky seat being vacated by Rep. Scotty Baesler (D) on a platform of health maintenance organization reform. After Clinton testified to the grand jury on Aug. 17 and made his nationally televised remarks to the nation, Scorsone thought the issue was going away: "I felt like he was bringing this thing to closure, which was great. Now we could go out and talk about Social Security and Medicare."
Perhaps it was that miscalculation that produced Scorsone's awkwardness at a Jaycees debate at Lafayette High School this week as he responded to a request to describe how important "moral leadership" is when picking elected officials.
Scorsone warned against "holier-than-thou" politicians, contending that voters should look at "what values are being exemplified and emphasized by a particular policy. I mean a policy that emphasizes tax breaks for the rich while the Social Security and Medicare systems fail, that to me does not have great value to our society."
Then there is Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who found it suddenly very uncomfortable to deal with a visit to the city next week by Clinton, who had personally recruited her to run this year against Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).
A few months ago, the Qualls campaign had been passing out a Cincinnati Magazine article describing Clinton's pleas to her to get in the race, with a full-page picture of Clinton grasping the mayor's hand on an airport tarmac. Over the past two weeks, however, Qualls was unsure whether she could reschedule commitments to meet with Clinton when he arrives Sept. 17.
Finally, earlier this week, she said she decided "that he is the president, he is coming into town, there are things I want to talk about with him; the empowerment zone application the city is putting in is one of them. So I'll go."
She said she knows that when Clinton arrives, "The TV cameras will be on the tarmac, they will be focused on Air Force One rolling in, they will be focused on me. I know how this will go: [Reporters] will chatter on the air, they will be conjecturing, 'Is this good? Is this bad?'‚"
Chabot, she said, "will have tons of film if he wants" to use in negative ads that she fully expects will show pictures of her "morphing" into Clinton and back again.
Asked if she would have Clinton come in to raise money for her, Qualls said: "I don't know. I'd have to think about that. Without this thing [the Lewinsky scandal], it would be a total no-brainer."
Although a long shot to win, the one Democrat in the region with a strategy designed to turn the Clinton crisis to advantage is Ken Lucas, a conservative running for an open seat in northern Kentucky against state Sen. Gex "Jay" Williams, a candidate of the Christian right.
So far, Williams's campaign has been plagued by controversies involving land deals, the Kentucky Ethics Board and inaccurate biographical information describing Williams as a graduate of the Naval Academy. Lucas, who has been pounding on these issues in a saturation radio campaign, has "gotten out from under" the Clinton controversy, contended John Lapp, his manager. "We've turned it on its head and pointed it at him" in an explicit attempt to make Williams "into the Clinton" of northern Kentucky, he said.
"It should help us because it brings this election more than ever to matters of integrity and personal responsibility and character, and we are happy to stand on our record in those areas," Lucas said, noting that a poll released Wednesday shows him ahead of Williams by five percentage points.
Williams countered in an interview that Lucas "is the Clinton because he campaigns as a conservative but his record is a liberal's."
In the meantime, as news reports Wednesday night and today suggested that the president's troubles had escalated into an investigation that could bring down the presidency, Qualls, without changing her commitment to meet with Clinton, issued a one-sentence statement that signaled by it neutral, noncommittal language the anxiety of Democrats.
"This is a matter of profound constitutional importance, which is why there is a process by which the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives will assess the allegations made by the special prosecutor in his recently released report."
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