WASHINGTON — Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning on Friday denied media reports that he'll resign from the Senate if he continues to face obstacles in his 2010 re-election bid.
"It's not true. I intend to fulfill my obligation to the people of Kentucky. If you are going to write something like this, you'd better make your sources known because they are lying," Bunning said of the anonymous reports that peppered both the mainstream media and the blogosphere on Friday.
According to reports in several publications, Bunning told lobbyists at a National Mining Association fundraiser this week in Washington that he would resign if he is unable to raise money and garner broader support in his campaign for a third term. For weeks, Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher, has lashed out at his fellow Kentuckian, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee's chairman, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, over support for his re-election efforts.
Last month, McConnell told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington that he didn't know if Bunning planned to seek re-election. Bunning countered that the senior senator must have suffered a memory lapse because Bunning told McConnell of his re-election intentions in early December.
Cornyn made similar comments but has since said the NRSC fully supports Bunning's campaign efforts. Both McConnell and the NRSC declined to comment on the reports of Bunning's threat to resign.
The ability to attract more financial and political support "are bigger factors that will make or break 2010" for Bunning, Jennifer Duffy, a senior analyst at the Cook Political Report, said in a recent interview.
Bunning has had problems with both.
He has continuously expressed frustration with what he sees as a lack of financial and political support from both McConnell and the NRSC. In the final weeks of the 2004 election cycle, political experts say, McConnell helped Bunning edge ahead in a narrow 1.4 percentage point victory against Democratic challenger Daniel Mongiardo, then a state senator from Eastern Kentucky and now the state's lieutenant governor, by loaning staffers and helping Bunning raise much-needed funds.
Bunning is now widely considered one of the nation's most politically vulnerable GOP senators for 2010 — a year political analysts say may prove politically tough for Republicans. Republicans are trying to hold onto the 41 seats needed to filibuster legislation they don't like.
Key Senate Republicans — Mel Martinez of Florida, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Christopher "Kit" Bond of Missouri — have announced they won't seek re-election in 2010.
"They've got another tough cycle ahead," Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said in a recent interview. "It's really a question of whether they can hold their 41 seats."
Increasingly, Bunning is being viewed by some Republican strategists as a political liability in achieving that goal.
Bunning faced widespread criticism recently after saying that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who's being treated for pancreatic cancer, would be dead by year's end. Bunning apologized Monday for the statement.
Days later, Bunning threatened to sue the NRSC if it supported another candidate in the 2010 race.
In the meantime, Bunning has struggled to raise enough funds to mount a competitive run, a fact he attributes to his inability to raise funds during McConnell's own contentious re-election bid. Bunning's campaign reported having about $150,000 on hand as of the most recent Federal Election Commission filing — far less than the $1 million to $2 million that political experts suggest Bunning would need by the end of the first quarter to kick his campaign into high gear.
Bunning has said he'll need $10 million to mount a competitive bid.
But Republican strategists worry about Bunning's ability to raise funds — a sign of a candidate's viability.
"It's up to him," Duffy said. "He promised to raise $2 million and they'll hold him to it."
Earlier this week, Bunning said his coffers were low because he loaned state Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, $30,000 to help fund the state Senate re-election campaigns of Republicans Jack Westwood of Crescent Springs and Ken Winters of Murray. Williams, who recently met with NRSC officials in Washington, says that he has not ruled out running for the U.S. Senate and that he would be "less than candid" if he did not say "a lot of rank-and-file people" have called him about the race.