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KY-Senate: Bunning Retires (Finally)

Jim Bunning retires (finally). J. Scott Applewhite -- AP

Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning bowed to political reality today, announcing that he would not seek a third term in 2010 -- a move that drastically increases Republicans' chances of holding the seat next fall.

"Over the past year, some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fundraising," said Bunning, referring to his testy relationships with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas). "The simple fact is that I have not raised the funds necessary to run an effective campaign for the U.S. Senate. For this reason, I will not be a candidate for re-election in 2010."

McConnell took the high road in his quote, praising Bunning as having had "two Hall of Fame worthy careers" and adding: "I am honored to have worked by his side in the Senate for the past several years." (Bunning won 224 games in 18 major league seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.)

Bunning's fundraising had lagged for months. After collecting just $263,000 in the first three months of the year, Bunning brought in a meager $305,000 from April 1 to June 30.

Cornyn, in a statement praised Bunning, but quickly pivoted to his party's increased chances of holding the seat. "The Democrats are facing a divisive primary between candidates who support growing the size of government and increasing spending in Washington," said Cornyn. "Republicans stand well-positioned to keep this seat in the Republican column."

Bunning had openly flirted with retirement and had even gone so far as telling Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) to open an exploratory committee to raise money for a candidacy in the event he decided against running.

Bunning is the sixth Republican Senator to announce he will not seek re-election in 2010. He joins Sens. Kit Bond (Mo.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Sam Brownback (Kans.), George Voinovich (Ohio) and Mel Martinez (Fla.) on the sidelines.

Democrats have two open seats -- one in Illinois where Sen. Roland Burris will not seek a full term and the other in Delaware where Sen. Ted Kaufman is not running.

While open seats are almost always more vulnerable than when an incumbent seeks re-election, the Kentucky race is an exception. Bunning's poor fundraising coupled with his ornery nature and narrow margins of victory in 1998 (50 percent) and 2004 (51 percent) made him a dead man walking politically.

Grayson is unproven at the national level but is well regarded by the state's Republican party and will enjoy strong and active support from McConnell.

On the Democratic side, state Attorney General Jack Conway's $1.3 million haul over the last three months established him as the frontrunner against Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo in next year's primary.

"Democrats will be will be targeting this seat whether we are running against Ernie Fletcher acolyte Trey Grayson, Ron Paul's son Rand, or George Bush fundraising Ranger Cathy Bailey," promised Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Eric Schultz.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 27, 2009; 4:24 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: Morning Fix: Mike Huckabee as Rodney Dangerfield


Well, this gives the GOP a fighting chance in KY. Bunning had the "L" on his back if he ran again; even Republicans would have crossed over.

While I doubt the Burris seat will be contended, certainly Crist looks golden in FL, barring any onerous revelations. But I think OH and NH will be tossups.

Posted by: bulldog6 | July 28, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Now comes the question, will the Republicans get into a cat fight and end up running a candidate so far to the right that even the Bluegrass State barfs and goes Democrat?

The claims that the Dems could always find a way to lose now seem to apply to the rabidly conservative remnant of the party.

But this is just Kentucky, a great place to run entertainment for Ohio.

Posted by: ceflynline | July 27, 2009 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Bunning and Burris, two peas in a pod indeed!

Posted by: NicholasJB | July 27, 2009 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Gator-ron wrote, "Was not Bunning the pitcher who pitched on two days rest in 1964 and lost two of the last four games as the Phillies faded that September?"

Sharp eye for MLB detail there, Gator-ron. His Wikipedia entry adds this amusing detail: "Bunning would routinely shake off catchers' pitch signs that he knew to be signaled into the game from the dugout by [Philadelphia Manager Gene] Mauch."

That seems a trait he retained during his political incarnation.

He was probably one of the best twenty pitchers to ever play baseball.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | July 27, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

thebobbob wrote, "The repudiation of the Republican Party will continue in the 2010 election. Thirty years of extreme anti-government rhetoric got us in the mess we're in."

You have too much faith in the rationality of the average voter.

I wish you were right; I'm fairly certain you'll be proved wrong.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | July 27, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

As a pitcher he had a lot of strike outs. As a senator he stuck out.

Was not Bunning the pitcher who pitched on two days rest in 1964 and lost two of the last four games as the Phillies faded that September?

Posted by: Gator-ron | July 27, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Like most pro athletes (cough cough Favre cough cough) he didn't leave the game when he should have - not that he was ever a political pro.

I don't like the Republican politician from Kentucky, but I'll always remember the pitcher with a lifetime 224 wins and 184 losses who tossed one of the 18 perfect games in major league history on Father's Day 1964.

All the best, Mr. Bunning.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | July 27, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure what Bunning's views on gun control are, but I'm assuming he's siding with the NRA on everything.

Speaking of which, anyone read Dionne's column today?

Basically says if our elected representatives are so in love with gun rights? Why are they hiding behind metal detectors all day? Shouldn't guns be allowed in the Capitol? Wouldn't they feel safer?

Posted by: DDAWD | July 27, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

I put the new Kentucky at #8 in the Fixlist. It's now an open seat, but everything depends on national conditions in 15 months and *noone* has any idea of what they'll be like.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 27, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Next week the Fix will post an excited aricle about Grayson's presidential prospects. Really, there's a lot of talk!

Posted by: margaretmeyers | July 27, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

So who succeeds to the title of Craziest Republican Senator?

Posted by: nodebris | July 27, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Too crazy for the GOP, that says a lot.

Posted by: nodebris | July 27, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

C'mon back to the Tigers! They need a long reliever. I mean, like, really bad.

Posted by: Craig_Colgan | July 27, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Thrown out of his own

There goes the easy path back to majority status for Senate Republicans...

Posted by: parkerfl1 | July 27, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Yeah!!! another one bits the dust. Keep on leaving the G.O.P. don't let the door hit you in the _ _ _ .....

Posted by: gre45 | July 27, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

News for John Cornyn just seems to keep getting sweeter. Democrats entered this election cycle with 7 targets, and all 7 of them now have candidates running to keep the GOP seats.
1. North Carolina: This was the easiest, as Richard Burr is well-funded, well liked & is running for reelection.
2. Florida: At this point, Republicans are glad Martinez is retiring b/c they now have pop. Governor Charlie Crist in the race to win it!
3. Kansas: Republicans are thankful frmr. Governor Sebelius is HHS secretary instead of running for US Senate. They also have US Rep. Tiahrt vs. Moran in the Republican primary, both great candidates. The winner of the R primary will be the next US Senator of Kansas.
4. Ohio: Sen. Voinovich is retiring, which sucks for Republicans b/c he was nearly a sure bet to keep this seat. R's have recruited a great fiscal conservative & wonderful fundraiser in Rob Portman and have a democratic primary between Sec. of State Brunner vs. Lt. Gov. Fisher.
5. New Hampshire: Democrats recruited US Rep. Paul Hodes, which has not raised money as Dems. thought. Hodes has been a less than impressive candidate. Republicans have recruited NH Atty. General Kelly Ayotte. Ayotte is very popular in Republican & Independent circles, and has a reputation of working across the isle and has support from some Democrats.
6. Missouri: US Senator Kit Bond is retiring. This race is the clearest and will likely be the closest Senate race of the 2010 election cycle. It will be US Rep. Roy Blunt vs. Sec. of State Robin Carnahan. At least Republicans have found a very good replacement for Bond, who Bond endorses, and has cleared the primary path for him in this race.

Finally, 7. Kentucky. Bunning has stepped down and Trey Grayson will step in and be the Republican nominee. Grayson will likely take full advantage of this opportunity, especially with the Democratic primary fight between Atty. General Conway & Lt. Gov. Mongiardo.

With Kentucky now out of the way, Republicans have found good candidates in every state Democrats are targeting for 2010. R's have also found good candidates in Illinois, California & Connecticut. Now, Cornyn can concentrate on getting candidates for other Republican pick-up opportunities: Delaware (Castle), New York (Pataki), Arkansas (?), Colorodo (Owens?) and Wisconsin (US Rep. Ryan or frmr. Gov. & HHS Tommy Thompson). It's July of 2009 & Republicans know who they have to defend retiring seats, now let's see how many Democratic seats they can recruit to make real runs at.

Posted by: reason5 | July 27, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

We all knew he was going to bail out, but why did he continue to string us along? *SIGH* OsiSpeaks[dot]com

Posted by: KYJurisDoctor | July 27, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

"So, EXACTLY what happens to the money that [Bunning has] already raised?"

The rules are fairly clear on what can be done. I don't happen to know what they are, but think he's limited to options like returning the money, donating it to charity or donating it to PACs.

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 27, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

The repudiation of the Republican Party will continue in the 2010 election. Thirty years of extreme anti-government rhetoric got us in the mess we're in. Just look at California where Reagan got the anti-tax whackos going. America has seen the Republican future and wants none of it.

Posted by: thebobbob | July 27, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

"Why no comments on the Pope falling in the darkness?"

If the pope falls in the dark & there's nobody there to hear, does he make a sound?

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 27, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

This must be what it felt like when the dinosaurs went extinct for Bunning certainly was the king of dinosaurs in the institution (the US Senate) that populated by a lot of dinosaurs.

Posted by: jjedif | July 27, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Why no comments on the Pope falling in the darkness?

Posted by: Tomcat3 | July 27, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Senator Bunning was a powerful voice for health care reform. As a walking example of what can happen when mental conditions go unchecked and undiagnosed, his battle to overcome these deficiencies in public - most notably during Senate floor outbursts and poorly organized stump speeches - was a profile in courage. He will be missed.

Posted by: SWB2 | July 27, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

So, EXACTLY what happens to the money that he's already raised?
Is he going to send that back to the donors, or pass it on to the party?
Or does he use it as a "small part" of his golden parachute?

Posted by: Tomcat3 | July 27, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: JakeD | July 27, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

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