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Bunning may rethink re-election over money

The embattled Republican senator says he'll reconsider running for a third term if he doesn't meet his fundraising goals.
Senate Race
"We're working like the devil to make those goals," says Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., referring to efforts to raise about $7 million to run a re-election campaign.J. Scott Applewhite / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Embattled GOP Sen. Jim Bunning said he'll reconsider running for a third term if he doesn't meet his fundraising goals.

Over the past several months, Bunning has continued to insist he's still in the race even as GOP leaders have sent not-so-subtle signals that he should bow out rather than face a likely strong Democratic challenge.

On Tuesday, he slammed GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, blaming his fellow Kentucky Republican for losing Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democrats and costing the party Senate seats.

McConnell hasn't publicly asked Bunning to retire but hasn't endorsed him for re-election next year. And Bunning said Tuesday that he may think twice about running if he continues to have trouble raising money. He says he'll need about $7 million, but he had less than $400,000 in the bank as of the end of March.

"We're working like the devil to make those goals," Bunning said. And if he doesn't make those goals, he said "we're going to take another look at the race. I'm not going to walk into 2010 with less than $1 million when I know it's going to cost $7 million minimally, probably $10 (million), somewhere in that area, to run against the winner of the Democratic primary."

Though he's encouraged Secretary of State Trey Grayson to form an exploratory committee, Bunning says that doesn't mean he's retiring. The committee will allow Grayson to raise and spend campaign money before he officially enters the Senate race. Grayson has been tapped to be master of ceremonies at the Kentucky GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday, a high-profile role that will give him maximum exposure to state Republican leaders.

Re-election woes
Bunning's fundraising has been lackluster and he's had to issue two apologies for recent comments, notably that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could die of pancreatic cancer within a year.

On Tuesday, Bunning had harsh words for Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party last week.

"Good riddance," Bunning said. "I hope he loses. He was never a Republican to start with."

GOP leaders said Tuesday that former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is considering a bid for Specter's seat.

Bunning also brought up Specter's battle with cancer, saying, "Do you know Arlen Specter will be 80, has had four bouts with cancer and he still wants to run for the U.S. Senate? And I'm being criticized at 77 and healthy for wanting to run for the U.S. Senate by certain leadership people in my party. Give me a break."

But Bunning also criticized McConnell "for being unable to retain" Specter, who has fought cancer twice, not four times.

"Do you realize that under our dynamic leadership of our leader, we've gone from 55 (seats) to probably 40 (seats) in two election cycles? And if the tea leaves that I read are correct, we will wind up with about 36 after this election cycle," Bunning said. "And so if leadership means anything, it means that you don't lose 19 seats, or approximately 19 seats, in three election cycles with good leadership."

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Bunning and McConnell declined to discuss the details of the spat.

"Well, the Kentucky Senate race certainly isn't dull, is it?" was all McConnell would say.

But fellow Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia defended McConnell, saying the GOP leadership team has done a good job and Bunning's comments don't indicate dissension in the ranks.

"Jim's a very independent guy and he's going through some difficult times and I'm sure it's really frustrating to him," Chambliss said.

GOP looks toward 2010
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, head of the Republicans' Senate campaign arm, said he thinks "it will all work out in the end" for the GOP.

"I saw the Secretary of State has formed an exploratory committee," he said. "Other people have indicated an interest ... So if Sen. Bunning decides not to run at some point then my concern is that we have the strongest possible candidate."

Cornyn has said the National Republican Senatorial Committee will support Bunning as long as he is in the race.

Two well-known Democrats, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway, are already vying for Bunning's seat. At least two other Republicans — state Senate President David Williams and Bowling Green physician Rand Paul, son of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul — have expressed interest. Both Grayson and Paul have said they won't run unless Bunning drops out.

Bunning said he doesn't think encouraging Grayson to form an exploratory committee will hurt his fundraising.

"I have set certain goals that I intend to meet," Bunning said. "If I don't meet them, then I think maybe it wasn't a good idea. Right now it doesn't seem to be hurting at all."