Under Pressure to Retire, Bunning Announces Plans to Quit Senate

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) will retire in 2010.
Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) will retire in 2010. (Susan Walsh - AP)
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By Ben Pershing and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) announced Monday that he would not run for a third term in 2010, unhappily bowing to pressure from Republican leaders who had urged him to retire.

After a decade in the Senate, Bunning, a baseball Hall of Fame member, had seen his political star fade in the Bluegrass State, to the point that Republicans feared his seat would fall to Democrats next November if he remained on the ballot. Led by fellow Kentuckian and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, GOP leaders mounted an unsubtle campaign in recent months to persuade Bunning to hang up his spikes.

Bunning, 77, gave in to their entreaties Monday, but not before making sure to assign some blame, particularly for his anemic campaign war chest.

"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," Bunning said in a statement. "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."

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. By contrast, state Attorney General Jack Conway raised $1.3 million in the latest quarter as he battles Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo in the Senate Democratic primary.

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, whom Bunning had encouraged to open an exploratory committee while he mulled retirement, is now the most likely GOP nominee.

Known for being irascible toward colleagues, aides and the press, Bunning has made a series of controversial remarks over the years that helped erode his standing at home. In February, he had to apologize after saying at a Republican event that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has "bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from" and predicted she wouldn't live more than nine months. (Ginsburg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer weeks earlier.) In 2004, running for reelection against Mongiardo, Bunning suggested his opponent looked like one of Saddam Hussein's sons and called him a "limp wrist."

Bunning won that contest by just two percentage points, even as President George W. Bush won Kentucky by 20 points. The state still leans toward Republicans, but recent polling showed Bunning trailing badly in a 2010 matchup against either Conway or Mongiardo.

"There is a sense of welcome relief that he did the right thing and, particularly, did not wait any longer," a Senate GOP strategist said of Bunning's decision, speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could be frank regarding a fellow Republican. "The dynamics of this race have now changed drastically, and Republicans' chances of holding this seat have grown far stronger."

Democrats say they still plan to target the race next November, arguing that Grayson is unproven in a major race.

Bunning is the sixth Republican senator to announce he will not seek reelection in 2010, after Sens. Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), George V. Voinovich (Ohio) and Mel Martinez (Fla.). Two Democrats -- Roland W. Burris (Ill.) and Ted Kaufman (Del.), both appointed -- have announced that they are not running next year.

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