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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

The Monica Effect: A Democrat Shuns Clinton

By Wendy Cole/Boone County

Time cover

(TIME, September 28) -- The President's political team was waving polls all over Capitol Hill last week that showed his approval rating unshaken by the Starr report. But the opinion that matters at this juncture belongs to a sliver of Americans: those who tend to vote in midterm elections and live in the 30 to 40 congressional districts where, for now, Democrats and Republicans still have a real contest.

That's why Ken Lucas, the Democrats' best hope in 32 years to win back Kentucky's Fourth Congressional District, made a point of not showing up last week when Clinton arrived at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Instead, Lucas stumped for votes just across the Ohio River. "People wanted me to say I had a scheduling conflict, but I didn't want to make up an alibi," says Lucas, 65. "I made the decision not to see him the moment this mess came down."

The former chief executive of suburban Boone County is running as fast as he can away from Clinton, even though Lucas' own polls show that over the past few months, he has steadily gained on his opponent, Republican state senator Gex Williams, and now enjoys a five-point lead. Lucas is on tough terrain for a Democrat: the district voted 49% to 41% for Bob Dole in the 1996 election, and it has been represented in Congress by beloved Republican Jim Bunning, who this year announced his own bid for the Senate.

The irony of Lucas' situation is that until the Monica mess came along, he had the character issue in his favor. Williams is under investigation for apparent ethical lapses of his own, including making campaign phone calls from his statehouse office and improperly reporting the sale of land to a political ally to support his family while he campaigned. He has also been accused of indicating that he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy when in fact he left in his second year. Lucas argues that the scandal works to his advantage. "I have no fear," he says. "In fact, I may be benefiting from all the talk about character and morals."

But Lucas' opponent is salivating over the prospect of holding Clinton against him. Williams has already taunted Lucas over his failure to greet Clinton, saying he needed "to get off the fence."

"I voted for George Bush in the 1992 election and Senator Dole in the 1996 election, and I am proud of my votes," Williams declared. "Ken Lucas voted for Bill Clinton twice, and he is running from his votes. Ken Lucas should...tell [Clinton] to either resign or face swift and certain punitive consequences." Local reaction to the Clinton videotape is key to whether the Williams campaign decides to move ahead with an all-out ad war tying Lucas to Clinton. Says Scott Howell, the Williams-campaign media consultant: "Kentucky is a southern state--it's a little more character driven--so we might be less hesitant to [launch such an ad campaign] here."

And Williams has another incentive for such attacks: there are few things that separate him from Lucas ideologically. They are both pro-life, pro-gun and pro-school prayer. Clinton is the difference, and that puts Lucas "in a clear lose-lose position," says Williams' pollster John McLaughlin. "Democrats who support Clinton should be disappointed in Lucas because he doesn't have the character to stand with him. On the other hand, if he stands with Clinton, the majority of voters in his district will go against him."

Lucas has crafted a reasoned, if innocuous, position on the President's predicament. "The Founding Fathers put a process in place. Now we need to let it work," Lucas says. "If he's guilty of perjury or obstruction of justice he should resign." He stops short of declaring whether he believes Clinton lied under oath. (The Cincinnati Inquirer and the Cincinnati Post have both called on Clinton to resign.)

But Lucas' greatest worry isn't voters who might turn against him because of his position on Clinton; it's those who may stay home on Election Day because they're fed up with all Democrats. Health-care consultant Kevin Gleason, who usually votes for Democrats, says he's unsure about what he'll do in November. "I want the Democrats to tell Clinton to pack his bags now," he says. "They've lost all credibility in defending this character. They don't need him." Lucas' best hope is that voters like Gleason will recognize--and reward--his political independence.

--With reporting by Mark Thompson/Washington


Cover Date: September 28, 1998

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