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Bunning takes aim at McConnell

UPDATED THROUGHOUT AT 5:10 P.M.

By Halimah Abdullah – habdullah@mcclatchydc.com

U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate

U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate

A rift between Kentucky’s two Republican U.S. Senators surfaced publicly Tuesday as U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning groused to reporters that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t publicly backed his 2010 re-election bid.

Bunning said McConnell must have suffered “a lapse of memory” last week when he told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington that he didn’t know if Bunning planned to seek re-election. Bunning, who is widely considered the nation’s most politically vulnerable GOP senator, said he told McConnell of his re-election intentions in early December.

McConnell’s lukewarm support is typical when members of Congress disagree with the senate minority leader on issues, he said.

Bunning, who has accused McConnell of taking marching orders from President George W. Bush during the last administration, has also differed with McConnell on the $700 billion bailout of the floundering financial sector and on immigration policy reform.

McConnell “had a lapse of memory when he was speaking to the press club last week when he said he didn’t know what my intentions were,” Bunning said. “Whatever Mitch says is whatever he says. He’s the leader of the pack and he can say whatever he wants and get away with it.”

McConnell declined to comment Tuesday on Bunning’s remarks.

Bunning also expressed frustration with what he sees as a systemic lack of financial support from both McConnell and national Republican fund-raising committees.

In the final weeks of the 2004 election cycle, political experts say McConnell helped Bunning eke out a narrow 1.4 percentage point victory against Democratic challenger Daniel Mongiardo, then a state senator from eastern Kentucky and now the state’s lieutenant governor, by loaning staffers and helping the junior senator raise much-needed funds.

“He won because McConnell picked him up and carried him,” said Jennifer Duffy, Senate analyst with the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “McConnell got out there and made some personal appeals and got his own organization involved. He made sure they had the money.”

However, Bunning’s re-election coffers are low, a fact he attributes to his inability to raise funds during McConnell’s own contentious re-election bid.

“For two years Sen. McConnell had a broom out and swept the state of Kentucky. For two years I did not hold a fund-raiser in the Commonwealth of Kentucky because I knew how important McConnell’s race was,” Bunning said.

Bunning’s campaign reported having about $150,000 on hand last week — far less than the $1 million political experts suggest Bunning would need by the end of the first quarter in order to start his campaign on solid footing.

Bunning said Tuesday that he will need $10 million to mount a competitive bid. He is putting together a campaign staff, planning several fund-raisers for coming weeks and will conduct polls later this spring.

But while Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is slated to pitch in to help raise funds, McConnell is not, Bunning said.

The palpable tension between the two Kentucky senators reflects the bleak landscape for the Republican party for the 2010 mid-term elections, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“McConnell and other Republican leaders, both state and national, are trying to nudge Bunning into retirement,” Sabato said.

“Kentucky is a Republican state but Bunning has squeaked to his two victories. This is one of those rare cases when a party would be better served not to support its incumbent.”

Senate Republicans face a difficult re-election picture in 2010. Already three key Republicans, Florida’s Mel Martinez, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Kit Bond of Missouri, have announced they will not seek re-election.

Republicans must keep all of the 41 seats they currently hold to retain the ability to filibuster legislation they do not deem favorable, Sabato said.

However, Bunning’s absence during the busy first week of the 111th Congress coupled with his dwindled war chest has raised questions about the 77-year-old’s viability as a candidate.

Bunning, who sits on the Senate’s Finance, Energy and Natural Resources and Banking committees, missed three cabinet confirmation hearings and a GOP strategy session on President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package earlier this month.

He also missed critical votes on releasing the second portion of the $700 billion federal bailout on the nation’s troubled financial sector — a measure Bunning has staunchly opposed in the past. Bunning’s congressional staffers attribute his absences to family commitments and declined to discuss exactly where the senator was for the better part of a month.

Already, the 2010 campaign looks as if it will feature the strange political twists and turns that have been the hallmark of Bunning’s previous bids and the Republican party’s recent efforts in statewide races.

McConnell’s relative silence on Bunning’s re-election gambit is similar to the senate minority leader’s approach to Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s re-election campaign in 2007.

“If that’s what you consider the Fletcher treatment, I guess that’s what I’m getting,” Bunning said.

The 2010 race may also feature a repeat match between Bunning and Mongiardo. During the 2004 campaign, Bunning said Mongiardo looked “like one of Saddam Hussein’s sons.”

Mongiardo is an Italian-American. Bunning later apologized for the statement.

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a fellow Republican, has been mentioned as a possible candidate if Bunning does not seek re-election. Along with Mongiardo, state Attorney General Jack Conway and Auditor Crit Luallen have been mentioned as potential candidates on the Democratic side.

“An incumbent has to make a very personal decision. No one can force anyone in or out of a race,” Sabato said. “We’ll have to see if Bunning continues to run uphill.”

Filed Under: Daniel MongiardoFeaturedFederal GovernmentMitch McConnellRepublican Party

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Comments

  1. Bill Adkins says:

    Oh, good – Republickan Intramural game is on.

  2. Mike says:

    The title doesn’t fit the article. Why include remarks about an election almost 5 years ago or his attendance record? Nothing positive about Bunning at all! Looks like another democrat will get the blessing and endorsement of the HL

  3. leatherneck says:

    ah come on Greyson, throw your hat in the political ring.”the more the merrier” maybe, we as voters,can hear you guys’positions on real issues and not just the same ole, same ole, abortion and gay “song and dance”?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Bunning is an idiot…we’re paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to be our Jr. Senator and he doesn’t even bother to show up this month to Congress. I think he’s gone senile and the republicans are trying to distance themselves from him because they don’t know when he’s going to come out and say something racist (Saddam Hussein’s son to an Italian) or bigoted that will cast them in a negative light. He’ll lose, and Kentucky will be all the better for it.

  5. special delivery says:

    Forgy lashed out at McConnell and now Bunning. What are they thinking? They are two senile, out of touch angry old men. Neither are relevant into todays political calculations.

  6. rita riley says:

    Deliver me from career politicians.
    Go home! Give somebody-anybody else A chance.
    Mandatory retirement for politicians, PLEASE!

  7. […] to the press club last week when he said he didn’t know what my intentions were,” Bunning told the Herald-Leader. “Whatever Mitch says is whatever he says. He’s the leader of the pack and he can say whatever […]

  8. george says:

    McConnell has made some big goofs this past 3 weeks talking or being quiet about Bunning. He could not win today against Lunsford. Now he pitches Bunning under the bus, let us hope he is not favoring Chandler again. Chandler was his worst enemy in this last race and McConnell helped him in his bid for Congress. Looks like McConnell has lost his charm..

  9. Ken S says:

    If Bunning has any mind left at all, he should realized that his political goose is cooked. Retire Senator Bunning. Do what’s right for Kentucky.

  10. Ken S says:

    If Bunning has any sense at all, he should realize that his political goose is cooked. Retire Sen. Bunning and do what’s right for Kentucky.

  11. Bilbo Baggins says:

    Looks like the Grand Old a-Party to me!

  12. John says:

    Isn’t it time we quit sending politicians to Washington that are full of old and stale ideas? Like Bunning!

  13. T Stone says:

    I’ll send Jim money if he slaps Mini Mitch absolutely silly on C-SPAN.

  14. JR17 says:

    YOU have the ability to ‘retire’ these career politicians — VOTE! Too many voters today want to be on the ‘winning team’ so they vote for the candidate they think will win, not the candidate they feel is best qualified or best represents their position. Next time vote for the candidate with smallest budget — better yet, vote for the candidate you WANT to have in office. Your candidate may not win the election, but you’ll be on the winning team because you voted FOR a candidate.

  15. George-Couldn’t have said it better.

  16. Old Res says:

    Both Bunning and Mitch’s retirement plans are worth more than most of us already… Surely a Retirement Celebration is more cost effective than the election campaign or their continued tenure in office…

  17. Frank E Smith says:

    McConnell is a closeted gay man. He has a “beard” named Ealin Chow. He has no place in the intolerant party of rich old white guys.

    Mitch, come on out of that expensive publicly funded fur line closet and join a national party that will accept you with arms and open arms, the Nazi Party.

  18. Relevance says:

    In response to Special Delivery…define relevance…Republican Leader McConnell is the centerpoint of the Republican Party, the top of the ticket, the longest serving member in Kentucky history, the kingmaker of the state, not to mention again, THE REPUBLICAN LEADER OF THE U.S. SENATE. He is the beginning of relevance, and in this case, the end. The RPK is his, and all bets aside, he’ll decide whether Bunning wins or not. R-E-L-E-V-A-N-C-E, both nationally and within the state.

  19. RARJR says:

    An angry and senile old bigot, and a closet sex pervert……sounds like a typical pair of Republicans to me.

  20. Dwayne says:

    Who is the only person that has been fighting so that our money will not be wasted on bailouts? Bunning

  21. Marion County, KY says:

    I cannot support Daniel Mongardio. He supports Mountaintop Removal mining, which is destroying Eastern Ky. Coal mining should continue the old fashioned way….with coal miners, not machinery.
    I support Attorney General Jack Conway. He is smart, young, aggressive and follow the law. You can bet your house McConnell doe not want him to run.

  22. Where are our moderators? says:

    Two posts above libel McConnell by accusing him of being gay. Where are our moderators to take these inflammatory and libelous lies down from this blog?

  23. It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.