- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, who tops the 2010 campaign list of the most vulnerable Republican senators, announced Monday that he would not seek re-election to a third term next year.

Mr. Bunning, 77, the first member of baseball’s Hall of Fame elected to Congress, said he was unable to raise the sums needed to run, blaming his problems on Senate colleagues whom had done “everything in their power to dry up my fundraising.”

“To win a general election, a candidate has to be able to raise millions of dollars to get the message out to voters,” he 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.”

Senate Republicans, in danger of losing perhaps two to four Senate seats next year, have been openly hoping that the senator would drop out of the running. Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, 37, has been seen as the GOP front-runner if Mr. Bunning did not run.

Democrats still see the now-open seat as a prime pickup opportunity, but Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Kentucky Democrats face a “divisive primary” of their own to pick a candidate and the Republican Party is “well-positioned to keep this seat in the Republican column.”

With his job approval ratings falling to about 40 percent and many pundits predicting his defeat, Mr. Bunning was able to raise just $263,000 in the first quarter and $302,000 in the second quarter, finishing June with $596,000 in cash on hand.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has made it clear in a number of barbed remarks that he hoped his colleague would retire.

But Mr. McConnell also praised Mr. Bunning after his decision.

“His steadfast focus on serving the people of the commonwealth has been as unwavering as his conservative ideals,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement.

Mr. Bunning first won the seat in a squeaker in 1998 with 50 percent of the vote, and survived an equally tough campaign in 2004 with 51 percent.

Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the influential Rothenberg Political Report, said in his newsletter Monday that Kentucky Democrats would likely nominate either Kentucky Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo - who narrowly lost to Mr. Bunning in 2004 - or state Attorney General Jack Conway, either of whom “would be formidable.”

Overall, though, Mr. Rothenberg said that while the Democrats “still have more opportunities than does the GOP” in 2010, “the public’s growing nervousness about the economy and the deficit could develop into a problem for Democratic candidates next year, particularly in open seats such as Missouri and Ohio.”

“At this point, Republican open seats still give Democrats more to shoot at, and Democratic gains in the order of two to four seats certainly seem reasonable. But the tide may be shifting slightly away from the Democrats,” he said.

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