Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bunning's Bluegrass Blues

Fresh on the heels of their gains over the past two cycles, Democrats are looking to an elusive Senate seat in Kentucky as an opportunity to finally get to the magic 60 seat--filibuster proof--majority. Their target is the irascible and intemperate (and Hall of Fame former major league pitcher) Jim Bunning. Despite Kentucky's reliable Republicanism in recent presidential races, Bunning has always been a lackluster campaigner and performer. With a reputation for making things, perhaps, harder for himself than they should be--in his last race he said that his challenger, and current Lieutenant Governor, looked like "one of Saddam Hussein's sons," Bunning managed to again get himself in hot water this past week. At a local GOP meeting in Kentucky, Bunning noted that a Supreme Court nomination was likely because of Justice Ginsburg's recent cancer diagnosis and operation. In his words, "Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live."

If this weren't bad enough, Bunning has managed to get into a sniping contest with current Republican Senatorial Committee Chair John Cornyn. Unsure of the party's loyalty, Bunning has threatened to sue the NRSC should they back a primary opponent against him (see coverage here and here).

All of this might not be much of a big deal if Bunning enjoyed widespread popularity in the state, had a massive campaign war chest in place, and could count on previous big victories to deter a serious challenge. Unfortunately, he enjoys none of these. In his previous two Senate races he has never reached 51% of the vote. His nailbiter of a re-election in '04 (50.7% to 49.3%) took place at the same time George Bush won Kentucky with 60% of the vote. In 1998, despite having won 7 terms to the House, he managed to win by just 6,000 votes. His campaign committee, as of now, reports just $150,000 in the bank--hardly an intimidating amount. In this environment, Dan Mongiardo, aka "one of Saddam Hussein's sons" has already announced his plans to challenge Bunning again.

At left, compare the maps from the '04 presidential and senatorial races (Dem. counties in red, Rep. in blue). Bush's success was much more widespread than Bunning's. While this can certainly, to
some degree, be attributed to the lukewarm reception John Kerry received in the state, Bunning supporters must nonetheless be nervous.

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