As Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) lashed out at leaders of his own party Tuesday and accused them of trying to impede his re-election fundraising efforts, two of the Senator’s home-state GOP colleagues appeared to leave the door open to the possibility that Bunning might not be the party’s nominee in 2010.
“I’ll support the nominee of our party,— Rep. Hal Rogers said Tuesday when asked about whether he was supporting Bunning.
Rep. Ed Whitfield likewise said that Bunning “is the only [Republican] candidate for U.S. Senate who has announced. So, at this point, I’m supporting him.—
The somewhat lukewarm response from the two Republican lawmakers is in contrast to recent comments made by fellow Kentucky GOP Rep. Geoff Davis, who wholeheartedly threw his support — and checkbook — behind Bunning at an event where both men appeared.
“If you’ve heard this myth going around about, Don’t give to him because we’re not so sure,’ I’m going to tell you something,— Davis said at the 4th district’s Lincoln/Reagan Day Dinner, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Double-down in your pockets and give to him because this Congressman is going to be raising one helluva lot of money to make sure he stays in the Senate, if that’s what he chooses to do.—
Bunning took Davis’ reference to the reluctance of some donors to give money and addressed it head on Tuesday, charging that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) are working to fuel doubts about his 2010 prospects in the minds of possible donors and actively working to undermine his campaign.
“We’re finding it more difficult to raise money because of McConnell and Cornyn,— Bunning said during a conference call with local reporters. “My senior Senator also sent out his first mailing for 2014. … I refrained from doing it for two years [when McConnell was running for re-election in 2008]. He sent out his, so you know where he stands.—
Bunning’s latest tirade against his party’s leaders comes just one week before the Federal Election Commission’s first-quarter fundraising deadline, and it could be a sign of another tough financial quarter for his campaign. The cantankerous Bunning began the quarter with a paltry $150,000 in cash on hand, a fact that didn’t sit well with party insiders who openly admit he is the most vulnerable Republican incumbent heading into 2010.
Both McConnell’s office and the NRSC declined to comment on Bunning’s statements Tuesday afternoon, but both Rogers and Whitfield said they weren’t aware that any sort of word had gone out in Kentucky to cut off Bunning’s fundraising.
“No one has called me up and asked me not to help him,— said Whitfield, who hails from the state’s western 1st district.
Rogers said the only talk he’s heard about Bunning being impeded in his fundraising efforts comes from what he’s read in newspaper reports.
“I guess it causes people to speculate— when you enter a Senate election cycle with just $150,000 in cash on hand, Whitfield said.
Both Whitfield and Rogers did note that Bunning has not approached them for specific fundraising help for his re-election campaign.
Rogers said Bunning has asked the Congressman to support him in 2010.
But after stressing repeatedly that he will run again in 2010, Bunning seemed to leave the door open to not seeking re-election on Tuesday, saying that he will make a decision on whether to stay in the Senate race within the next few months.
Previously, Bunning has charged that Cornyn and McConnell have been working to recruit a primary challenger to run against him, and he repeated those charges Tuesday.
“When they recruit someone to run against you in a primary, it puts doubt in people’s minds that you are going to finish the race,— Bunning told the Kentucky press. “Therefore, they’re waiting and waiting and waiting. It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.—
Last month, state Senate President David Williams (R) met with officials at the NRSC — a visit that has been described as a “courtesy.—
Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R), a close McConnell ally, has said he would run for the Senate if Bunning chose to retire, but he has indicated he would not challenge the Senator in a primary.
NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh declined to comment on Bunning’s latest accusations against Cornyn on Tuesday, pointing to recent statements by Cornyn saying the organization will back the Kentuckian in his re-election bid.
One Republican with knowledge of the situation also said that in addition to Cornyn’s recent public statements of support for Bunning, the NRSC chief has approached his colleague in an effort to put an end to the controversy, but that thus far those overtures have clearly not borne fruit.
Several Republicans predicted that this latest episode will result in little, if any, action from either Cornyn or McConnell since at this point most Republicans believe there is little that they can do to repair the relationship between Bunning and leadership.
Even though it’s still relatively early in the cycle, some senior Republican insiders have clearly written Bunning off as a political dead man walking.
“He cannot win the race, and at the end of the day … we have to stay above 40 [Senators],— one senior Republican aide said Tuesday.
The aide said Bunning continues to be his own worst enemy between his near-weekly blow-ups on his Kentucky press calls and his lack of effort to this point.
“He cannot win, so doing anything for him would be a waste of resources,— the aide said.
For their part, Democrats are clearly reveling in the GOP infighting and heartburn Bunning is causing in Kentucky political circles — and are happy to fan the flames of discord.
“I think we actually have a good shot in Kentucky,— Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said in an interview last week. “It’s obvious to me … that Sen. McConnell doesn’t want his colleague to stay in Kentucky and that speaks volumes. … With the universe of candidates we have, we are ready to run whether it’s against Bunning or whether McConnell is successful in moving out Bunning.—
John Stanton contributed to this report.