updated 10/24/2006 1:09:55 PM ET 2006-10-24T17:09:55

To the north of this river town, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft has pleaded no contest to ethics violations. To the south, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher has acknowledged that people working for him may have wrongly rewarded political supporters with jobs.

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Two states, two damaged administrations, and two Republican governors.

Voters along the Kentucky side of the Ohio River have been buffeted by Republican political scandals locally as well as nationally to the point that some in the 4th Congressional District are ready for a change.

Democratic windfall
"I'd be voting for Clem Kadiddlehopper if he were the Democratic candidate," said Randall Buys, a northern Kentucky accountant who is also dissatisfied with President Bush's handling of the Iraq war.

That attitude spells nothing but trouble for Republican Rep. Geoff Davis as he faces a strong challenge from a former congressman, Democrat Ken Lucas.

"You've got two of the most unpopular governors in America in that Cincinnati media market," said Mark Nickolas, a Democratic political strategist. "It's like it's coming at them in stereo. Ohio Republican corruption and Kentucky Republican corruption. That's devastating."

The 4th District seat is among those the GOP is in danger of losing in the Nov. 7 elections. The Democratic Party must pick up 15 seats to take control of the House. 2006 key races

Meandering from the West Virginia border to the east to the Louisville suburbs to the west, the district includes the northern Kentucky metro area plus scores of small farming communities and Ohio River towns in outlying counties. Political ideologies range from largely Republican in the shadows of Cincinnati to Democratic in its industrial northeastern corner.

The issues
Davis, who is completing his first term, and Lucas, who spent three terms in the House before honoring a term-limits pledge, are conservatives who differ little on hot-button issues.

Both oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. Both support gun rights. Both promise to bring economic development and jobs to the 4th District, critical issues in towns like Ashland that have lost high-paying industrial jobs over the past decade. And both support closing the U.S.-Mexico border to illegal immigrants.

Still, that leaves plenty of room for finger-pointing over who isn't right for the 4th District.

Lucas calls Davis a "party hack" for Republican leaders in Washington. Davis responds: "I'm a conservative, former small-business owner who represents a conservative Republican district. It would be expected that the majority of my votes would be conservative."

Davis contends Lucas has a history of waffling on issues. "I've never waffled on any major issue," Lucas counters. "I voted with Democrats on some issues, with Republicans on some issues. That's not waffling. That's being independent."

The Davis campaign argues that Lucas was a "do-nothing" congressman. The Davis campaign has even taken a shot at Lucas' vacation to Africa, referring to him as "Safari Ken."

Lucas has made political hay by claiming Davis received campaign funds from Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the former California Republican congressman sentenced to prison for taking bribes from defense contractors.

Campaign battles
With the race extremely close, both campaigns have already aired harsh campaign ads.

"Given how high the stakes are, it's a lot less nasty than I would have expected," said Michael Baranowski, a political scientist at Northern Kentucky University. "My guess would be that as we come closer to the election, that's going to change."

Political heavyweights from both parties have raised money for their candidates. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush have attended fundraisers for Davis, and Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Joe Biden of Delaware, both considered presidential possibilities, campaigned for Lucas.

The June 30 campaign finance report showed Lucas had $330,000 on hand, but Davis reported having $1.56 million. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has said it will spend $2.7 million on political ads for the race. While the Republican National Committee hasn't committed to a spending level, it is paying for television ads to support Davis.

The negative ads, however, are turning off David Kroth, a Republican who hasn't yet decided for whom he will vote.

"I wish somebody would just come up and say what their plans are, what they'd like to see in the future, and what they'd like to accomplish, and be factual, instead of all this," Kroth said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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