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KY-Sen: Mongiardo's In

Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R) faces a very difficult reelection race. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo announced this morning that he will take on Sen. Jim Bunning (R) in 2010 -- seeking a jump on what could be a crowded Democratic field.

"The people of Kentucky deserve a Senator that has the vision, energy and record to help improve our state and country," said Mongiardo this morning. "After the current legislative session, I will launch a vigorous campaign to replace Senator Jim Bunning."

This will be Mongiardo's second try at ousting Bunning who is widely regarded by Republican and Democratic strategists alike as the most vulnerable incumbent seeking reelection next fall.

The rumor mill continues to churn that Bunning, who will be 79 on election day 2010, will retire or be pushed into retirement but his inner circle insists he is running. "I know that Senator Bunning is looking forward to running against the winner of a crowded Democratic primary," said Jon Deuser, a former senior aide to the Kentucky Senator. "In 2010, he's going to do it again."

In 2004, Mongiardo, then a state senator, surged at the end of the campaign as Bunning stumbled; the Democrat ultimately lost 51 percent to 49 percent. Three years later he was elected to his current position as Steve Beshear swept to the governorship.

Mongiardo may be the first serious Democrat in the field but he almost certainly won't be the last. State Attorney General Jack Conway, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002 before being elected as Kentucky's top cop in 2007, is expected to get into the race in the coming weeks.

"Mongiardo's actions in no way impact Jack Conway's decision," said Mark Riddle, a consultant for the attorney general. "Conway is moving forward with his process."

It's not clear whether any other Democrats will decide to run. State Auditor Crit Luallen was wooed by national Democrats to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2008 and is reportedly considering a run in 2010. Rep. Ben Chandler would almost certainly be Democrats' strongest candidate but all reports are that he is happy in the House.

There's no doubt that Bunning is in serious trouble regardless of who Democrats wind up nominating. Given Bunning's age, tough reelection race in 2004 and weak cash position (less than $150,000 on hand at the end of 2008), this may be a rare occurrence where an open seat would give Republicans a better chance of keeping Kentucky in their column.

But, Bunning -- as anyone who knows him is aware -- is his own man and keeps his own counsel. And, until we hear differently, he's running.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 26, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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looks like grayson is out. i'm not sure if the other republicans can get the money they need if bunning seriously starts fundraising. it'll be interesting to see.

Posted by: plathman | January 28, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse

hey chris, can we do "the line" of possible republican contenders for each of the retiring republican senators (including bunning)? we know portman in ohio, but who else?

my line for bunning's seat:

1) Trey Grayson
2) Richie Farmer
3) David Williams
4) Geoff Davis

both grayson and farmer were big winners statewide in the race where bunning just scraped by. both are young republicans and can lend vitality to the party's national image.

people have already started drafting grayson for higher office, and according to many is the consensus choice:

(this blog touts the fix (!))

but farmer would be an interesting candidate because he could get attached to the image the GOP wants to portray: young, full of non-traditional ideas and deeply connected to the "traditions" of local communities.

though he is just the agriculture commissioner, farmer (great name for ag commissioner) is a former kentucky basketball player under pitino and a member of the team called "the unforgettables" (those of you who aren't fans of kentucky basketball, just know that he was on the team that seems to be the only kentucky clip they show during the ncaa tournament, the one where christian laettner makes the "shot heard around the world"). he's been at the center of diversifying kentucky agriculture after tobacco, and he's branded locally produced agricultural products with the "kentucky proud" name. mixing both, he has a poster on the kentucky proud website with his team mates advertising kentucky agricultural products as "unforgettable": "unforgettable flavor, etc."

he can sell people in lexington and louisville with his basketball story ("i didn't leave kentucky in the hard times" (he was on a 13-19 team and was there when kentucky was on probation)) and with his efforts as agricultural commissioner ("i didn't leave kentucky in the hard times when tobacco was no longer a viable crop"). the argument could then be, "now i'm ready to take on the needs of kentucky in the hardest time we've had since the great depression. i always stick with it, and i'm always dedicated to kentucky". sort of cheesy, but someone with better ad chops than me could make something like that work.

his "buy local efforts" could appeal to culturally liberal but fiscally democrats, and he could run effectively as a moderate republican and brandish the gop image if they want to go in that direction.

williams probably wants to be governor, so he probably won't run. geoff davis isn't really known statewide, but he's a northern kentucky republican and might have support from bunning.

Posted by: plathman | January 27, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

"State Auditor Crit Luallen"

You know it's the South when...

Posted by: SeanC1 | January 27, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Ball Four is one of the funniest books of all time. I have dog-eared nearly every page of my copy.

There is nothing funny about Jim Bunning.

And he would have lost to Mongiardo last time around were it not for some scumbag GOP functionary in Ky who started spreading rumors and innuendo about why Mongiardo was not married and also about his "furrin" sounding name.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | January 27, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

In 2004, GW Bush wins KY by 367,000 votes. Incumbent Senator Jim Bunning wins by a mere 23,000 votes.

If Jim Bunning runs again in 2010, he will be retired the same way 79 year-old Delaware Senator William Roth was in 2000, by 12 points, maybe more.

Posted by: Digital_Voter | January 26, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

"Jim Bunning should re-read his firebrand classic baseball book of all time, "Ball Four" -- a book that created a daring new genre of sports journalism."

Ball Four was written by Bouton, not Bunning.

Posted by: DDAWD | January 26, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

If Bunning retires, I hope he'll consider pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They need help.

Posted by: officermancuso | January 26, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Ball Four was written by Jim Bouton. I question Bunning's ability to be any type of author, let alone senator.

Posted by: optimyst | January 26, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

It has been sad to watch Bunning over the years. He nearly lost four years ago and that was during a presidential election where Bush won KY big. Bunning seemed to have lost it mentally. Now, it is four years later and he has accomplished nothing for the people of KY. If he runs, he is toast.

Posted by: hilltopper1 | January 26, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Jim Bunning should re-read his firebrand classic baseball book of all time, "Ball Four" -- a book that created a daring new genre of sports journalism.

Then he should ask himself: "Could the politician Jim Bunning write such a book about the past eight years?

If he could, and if he did, he'd win -- if he reverted to the maverick-y days of his youth instead of lobbing softballs at the behest of his party handlers.

Posted by: scrivener50 | January 26, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Optimyst, I wonder if the boiling anger that made Bunning so tough on the mound has been his Achilles heel as a Senator?

It's possible he just is not smart, but I do believe he has often appeared to be erratic and temperamental.

Think back to the athletes of our youth and there were several who were propelled by fierce anger. Jim Brown has done good works as a gang mediator, but he would have been a disaster as a Senator.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 26, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I am pretty confident that Whitfield will actually run and win this seat.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | January 26, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

It was Father's Day 1964 and we went for a family picnic and swim at Lake Silkworth, PA, but I stayed out of the lake listening to my transistor radio because I was a 10 year old fervent Phillies fan and Jim Bunning was pitching the first game of a double header. As the game went on, my excitement grew, as he retired each batter in order. The drama mounted as the three-up, three down innings piled up on the Mets at Shea Stadium. I withdrew from the family activities. This was history in the making, far too important! I could hardly breathe those last three outs in the ninth. He did it! Jim Bunning, a perfect game! And also the first pitcher ever to pitch no hitters in both leagues. He was a hero to me then. Now, hardly.

Posted by: optimyst | January 26, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Do you think Bunning could pitch a 78 mph fast ball at age 78? I read that Feller could still throw 75 when he was 75.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 26, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

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