After Bruce Lunsford’s unsuccessful attempt to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell last November, Kentucky Democrats began focusing on how they could win the commonwealth’s other Senate seat, held by the GOP’s Jim Bunning.
Bunning narrowly defeated Dan Mongiardo in 2004, and he’s up for re-election next year. And this time around, questions about Bunning’s political future are being raised within his own party.
Jim Bunning says he will seek a third term next year.
“I’m going to run,” he says.
Bunning conducted a poll in February to gauge support for his re-election bid…but the sometimes irascible 77 year old senator declined recently to disclose the results.
“Let’s say that I did the polling,” said Bunning.
“What does that mean?
“That means it’s none of your G**damn business.”
Those comments are from conference calls with reporters in February and March. Bunning later apologized for the profanity.
Speculation over Bunning’s political future intensified at the beginning of the year, when he reported having relatively little campaign cash on hand. He said that’s because he delayed fundraising to help GOP candidates in the 2008 elections.
Meanwhile, Senator Mitch McConnell told the National Press Club in January he wasn’t sure if his Kentucky counterpart would seek a third term, prompting this response from Bunning in another conference call.
“He had a lapse of memory or something when he was speaking to the press club when he said that he didn’t know my intentions were,” said Bunning. “He knew very well what my intentions were.”
“When they treat Bunning’s candidacy as a possibility and he’s treating it as a reality, then it’s clear they don’t want him to run,” says longtime political writer and the head of the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky Al Cross.”I think that they have looked at his propensity to commit gaffes, his narrow re-election last time, in a year when George Bush was carrying this state by 15 points and his lack of fundraising up to this point, and probably some poll numbers, and concluding that he is going to have a hard time holding the seat for the Republican party which desperately needs every seat it can get in the U.S. Senate.”
Two Republicans say they’re ready to jump into the race only if Bunning decides to retire. One of them is Secretary of State Trey Grayson.
“Jim Bunning is a friend and a mentor,” says Grayson. “He is running for re-election and as long as he’s running for re-election, I don’t have any plans to run against him in a primary.”
And then there’s Bowling Green doctor Rand Paul, who is the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul.
“My goal is to tell everyone within earshot I will run if Senator Bunning won’t and that I want to represent the conservative wing of the party,” says Paul.
Paul and Grayson both say they’re close to Bunning politically, especially when it comes to economic policy–which they call a key to victory in 2010. Neither has officially begun raising money or campaigning, but Paul says he’ll use the same grassroots efforts that powered his father’s presidential bid, while Grayson says he can rely on his reputation as a Republican up-and-comer.
“Frankly, everywhere I go people ask me what I’m going to run for next,” says Grayson. “They encourage me to run for other offices because the know I’m term-limited as Secretary of State for 2011.”
“Well the person who’s not going to wait on Bunning is David Williams,” says Al Cross. He’s talking about Kentucky Senate President David Williams, who has expressed interest in the seat.
“I expect Williams will be in the race next month, after Bunning reports a poor fundraising performance in the first quarter,” says Cross.
Williams hasn’t officially declared his candidacy, and calls to his office on the matter weren’t returned. Williams met last month with officials from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, prompting Bunning to say he would sue the NRSC if it recruited an opponent to run against him. The committee’s chairman, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, says it supports Bunning. Cornyn told the Courier-Journal the meeting with Williams was just a courtesy visit.
As Kentucky Democrats watch it all unfold, they’re positioning for their own primary. Lt. Governor Dan Mongiardo has formally announced he’ll run again. Attorney General Jack Conway has said he’s considering the race, as is Congressman Ben Chandler.