WASHINGTON – If Rep. Ken Lucas (search) were looking for the perfect person to optimize his chances for keeping his Kentucky congressional seat Democratic after his resignation, he certainly seems to have hit the mark.
Nick Clooney (search) is famous in the area not only for being the little brother of late jazz diva Rosemary Clooney (search) and father of Hollywood heartthrob George Clooney (search), but because he has been a friendly face and voice in Greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky news for over 30 years.
"I personally recruited Nick Clooney because he was the very best person to run in this district," said Rep. Lucas, who is keeping a six-year term limit and is leaving his post in the 4th District. He said he asked Clooney to run for his seat before he even announced his retirement.
Kathy Black-Dennis, chair of the Oldham County Democrats, agreed they could have no better recruit than Clooney. "He knows what the issues are and he can communicate them — and people relate to him," she said. "He’s really excited people."
The 4th Congressional District, however, is very Republican, having gone for George W. Bush over Vice President Al Gore 61 to 37 percent in 2000. The district runs along the Ohio River and the Ohio border to the north, from the Louisville suburbs all the way to the West Virginia border to the east, and is at once industrial, suburban and rural, with several universities in the mix, but heavily conservative, say analysts.
Geoff Davis (search) may not have Clooney’s glamour, but the CEO of a manufacturing and consulting firm has a military background, and has built up a solid campaign since his first unsuccessful run against Lucas in 2002. He lost to Lucas 51 percent to 48 percent.
"This race is going to be about who has the experience and the qualifications to best represent the people of the 4th District, in this time in history," Davis told FOXNews.com. "What I lack in celebrity, we will make up for in substance."
Davis, who lives in Hebron with his wife and six children, served as an Army officer and Ranger and at one time ran U.S. Army Aviation Operations for Peace Enforcement (search) between Israel and Egypt.
The importance of his candidacy has not been lost on top Republican leaders — House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt have both campaigned on his behalf, and he was given about a minute speaking time on the dais at the Republican National Convention.
"Geoff Davis lost a fairly close race to Ken Lucas last time and basically he kept running," said Nathan Gonzales, analyst for the Rothenberg Political Report. "I think Davis has learned a lot and developed as a candidate."
Gonzales agreed that if voters decide to vote on the conservative party line, "then Davis is in good shape." However, "if voters decide on personality and popularity, then Clooney has a good shot."
Therein lies the problem for Republicans. Clooney’s 50-year career in television and radio, including three decades anchoring television news and writing columns in the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky market, gives him instant name recognition with the voters. So, analysts say, Republicans must underscore some of the perceived ideological shifts between Clooney the writer and Clooney the candidate.
Recently, The Cincinnati Post, for which Clooney wrote three columns a week as a freelancer until he took a leave of absence to run for office, pored over Clooney’s work and found a commentator opposed to the death penalty, religion in schools and what he called a pre-emptive strike in Iraq.
Clooney has also written that he believes in gun registration and in 2000 urged Lucas to switch parties because of his conservatism and lack of Democratic Party loyalty.
But today, Clooney's campaign says the candidate, who grew up in Maysville, Ky., and raised his family in Augusta after serving in the military, is pro-life, pro-gun and supports an amendment to define marriage only between a man and a woman.
His campaign defends Clooney’s decision not to attend the Democratic National Convention in July — he criticized Lucas for not going in 2000 — and says it has asked national Democrats not to make any campaign stops.
"We’ve asked them not to campaign for us, we can stand on our own two feet," said Clooney campaign spokesman Bob Doyle. "That is the fundamental difference between the two candidates — Geoff Davis is telling people his vote is bought and paid for by his national political party. [Clooney] is making people understand that that his values are more in sync with the values of the people of Kentucky."
Davis and the Republicans see things differently.
"People who do the Hollywood extreme makeover are trying to run his campaign," said Bo Harmon of the National Republican Congressional Campaign.
"He wrote in one of his columns that public officials should be held accountable for what they say and what they do," Davis said. "The reality is after taking a poll and then suddenly deciding to change your positions … it’s very disingenuous."
Doyle called Davis a "serial liar" and accused the GOP of taking quotes out of context to distract the voters. "He’s wasting his time telling lies about Clooney."
High school history teacher Michael Slider (search), the independent candidate, told FOXNews.com that he provides the only relief from the hyper-conservative rhetoric.
"Geoff Davis basically parrots everything that George Bush says. Nick Clooney is selling himself as a conservative Democrat," he said.
Clooney is not granting any interviews to news outlets outside of the district for the benefit of keeping "the focus on Kentucky," Doyle said. But Clooney has, in the last two weeks, attended well-publicized fund-raisers in New York and Washington, D.C., which boasted the presence of George Clooney and several other celebrities.
Right now, because of the district’s heavy Republican leanings, Davis has the slight advantage, but the race is considered a toss up, Gonzales said.
"Clooney is going to have to convince a bunch of Bush voters to vote Democrat for Congress," he said.