Despite Apology, Bunning Faces More Trouble Ahead
By Ben Pershing
Over the weekend, two news items about Sen. Jim Bunning emerged that appear to spell trouble for the Kentucky Republican's reelection prospects in 2010.
Item 2: During a speech Saturday at the Hardin County (Ky.) Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner, Bunning said, according to the Louisville Courier Journal, that his support for conservative judges would be particularly important soon because Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has "bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from. ... Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live after [being diagnosed] with pancreatic cancer."
Why are those two news items related? Because some of Bunning's fellow Republicans, both in Washington and Kentucky, would very much like him either to announce his retirement or lose the GOP primary in 2010. And it's gaffes like that Ginsburg comment which make Bunning look more and more vulnerable to defeat if he resists that pressure and decides to run for another term
After initially declining to comment when his remarks on Ginsburg were first reported, Bunning issued an apology today to the ailing justice, who is back at work today two weeks after undergoing cancer surgery.
"I apologize if my comments offended Justice Ginsburg," Bunning said. "That certainly was not my intent. It is great to see her back at the Supreme Court today and I hope she recovers quickly. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family."
(IF she was offended? Like maybe it didn't bother her that he said she was about to die?)
As for that meeting with Williams at the NRSC Friday, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) told Capitol Briefing today that it was just "a courtesy visit."
"Just to clear up any potential confusion, the NRSC supports Sen. Bunning," Cornyn said, adding that the committee would back Bunning in a contested primary, just as it does as a rule with all of its incumbents.
Cornyn said he was aware of chatter that some Republicans might want Bunning to retire. "My position is that this is Sen. Bunning's decision to make, and as long as he says he is running I will be supportive of him," Cornyn said.
Cornyn's position aside, it's well-known that some of Bunning's colleagues would be happy to see him ride off into the sunset next year. His fellow Kentuckian, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), has been less than enthusiastic about the idea of Bunning running again.
Bunning barely won his reelection race in 2004 over Dan Mongiardo (D), in a political environment much more favorable to the GOP than the current one. Since then, he has endured a stream of bad publicity running right up through this weekend's comments about Ginsburg. Mongiardo, the lieutenant governor, is running again this year, and state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) may also run.
It's not clear whether Williams would actually challenge Bunning in a GOP primary, or is just considering getting in the race if Bunning drops out. Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) is also seen as a potential candidate but his intentions are similarly unclear.
UPDATE 5:05 p.m. ET: Grayson released this statement this afternoon: "Recent news reports change nothing about the US Senate race as I am concerned. Senator Bunning is a friend and mentor. As I have mentoned before, if he were to decide not to run, I would be keenly interested in the race. Senator Bunning has said that he is running, and I take him at his word. I am not planning a primary."
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