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Dems: We Got Convention Drama!

The only Kentucky Democrat in Congress said Thursday he will not vote for Al Gore's presidential nomination because of deep-seated differences on tobacco, abortion and gun control.

"I'm pro-life and he's pro-choice," Rep. Ken Lucas said in a telephone interview. "I'm for the tobacco farmer and the tobacco industry here in Kentucky and he is not. I'm for Second Amendment rights. So we just have some major differences."

Consequently, Lucas said he will abstain when fellow delegates vote for Gore's nomination next week at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Lucas, 66, is running for a second term in Kentucky's 4th District, a conservative bastion that was represented by Republicans for more than 30 years until Lucas' election.

"I'm proud to be a Democrat," Lucas said. "I agree with a lot of the Democratic principles of inclusion and supporting Social Security and Medicare prescription drugs."

But the gulf between himself and Gore is too wide on a few, core issues, Lucas said.

"It's just who I am and what I am," he said. "One of the nice things about a person of my age is that it allows you to have a fair amount of independence. I'm not planning on being there for 20 or 30 years, so I can really sort of speak my peace and be who I am and let the chips fall where they may."

Lucas ran on a pledge to serve no more than three terms. His district snakes along the Ohio River through suburbs of Louisville and Cincinnati and into a steel-and-coal region of northeastern Kentucky.

Lucas, who had a reputation for independence anyway, has kept himself at arm's length from President Clinton, whom Lucas harshly criticized during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Other Democrats said Lucas' stance won't hinder Gore.

"Ken Lucas was elected to represent his district and it is a very conservative one," said Nicki Patton, state Democratic Party chairwoman. "But this won't affect our ability to carry Kentucky for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman."

Ellen Mellody, a Gore campaign spokesman, said Democrats can have differences of opinions. She said the campaign remains confident of winning Kentucky by emphasizing a pro-family theme.

"The Gore-Lieberman ticket is going to fight for things that are important to Kentucky families, which are Social Security, Medicare, prescription drugs and education," she said.

Lucas carried his independence a step further, saying he hasn't decided whether to vote for Gore or Republican George W. Bush.

"We'll see how it shakes out," he said.

Ellen Williams, state Republican Party chairman, dismissed Lucas' non-committal as an attempt "to have it all ways." She said if Lucas wants to represent his district, he should vote for Bush.

"I don't blame him for not wanting to vote for Al Gore," Williams said. "I don't see how any Kentuckian, in good onscience, could support Al Gore."