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Kentucky's 4th: Bad Guess May Hurt GOP Incumbent

One of the first lessons any successful politician learns is don't offer guesses about important issues on the stump. If you don't know the answer to a specific question, do your best to change the subject or hedge your bets. Never fake certainty.

Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) apparently missed that class during candidate school. At a debate late last week, the freshman Republican was asked how many American troops had been killed in Iraq so far this month. Davis quickly answered "17." The correct answer was 71. (Thanks to the miracle of Youtube, you can watch the clip here.)

Davis's campaign manager insisted that his boss knew the correct answer and simply switched the "1" and the "7." "He was nervous and he transposed the numbers in his head," Justin Brasell told Pat Crowley -- one of Kentucky's leading political reporters.

Misstatement or not, Davis's gaffe plays into the hands of former Rep. Ken Lucas (D) in the 4th District, a conservative-minded seat centered on northern Kentucky. Davis has built his campaign around his experience as an Army Ranger and bona fides on military issues. Getting the number wrong undermines that message.

According to a source in the Lucas campaign, a tracking poll done last week for the Democrat showed him with a 44 percent to 36 percent lead over Davis. That same survey showed just 30 percent of the sample felt the country was headed in the right direction while 58 percent believe it is off on the wrong track. Just 31 percent approved of the job Davis is doing while 54 percent disapproved.

Republicans retort that Lucas's pollster -- Alan Secrest -- had surveys showing Democrat Nick Clooney ahead of Davis by double-digits for much of the 2004 race that the Republican eventually won 54 percent to 44 percent. A recent Survey USA poll, which should be taken cum grano salis due to the fact it uses automated phone calls, showed Davis with a 47 percent to 44 percent edge over Lucas.

The district is one of two dozen that has been on both parties' radar screens for the past 18 months or so. Lucas, who held the seat from 1998 to 2004, was widely seen as the only Democrat with any chance of winning the seat given the district's very conservative nature. National GOPers have been feeling more and more confident about their chances over the past month, although it's not immediately clear how damaging Davis's Iraq comments will be.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 23, 2006; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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