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Why is Grayson exploring a run against his mentor, Bunning?

WASHINGTON — Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson's decision to explore a possible run for U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning's seat on Thursday came after a multi-week series of conversations between the state's junior senator and his protege.

"Jim Bunning suggested I form an exploratory committee several weeks ago," Grayson said Friday. "I met with him on Wednesday and told him I was ready to move forward and he still supported the idea."

With Bunning’s apparent blessing in hand, Grayson, 37, said he moved forward and told several key Republicans, including potential donors and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, that he would explore a run.

However, when Grayson publicly announced his exploratory committee on Thursday, Bunning's spokesman continued to claim that the Hall of Fame pitcher "has every intention of running." On Friday, Bunning declined to say anything.

Bunning's declaration on Thursday that he "has every intention of running" confused state politicos, who thought Grayson's exploratory committee signaled that the senator was ready to end his 2010 bid.

"Anything can happen. The critical point will be when someone has to make a decision to put their name on the ballot, but I think we'll know what’s going on a long time before that," said Marc Wilson, a lobbyist and political advisor from northern Kentucky. "Sen. Bunning isn't going to leave Trey out there and Trey will defer to Sen. Bunning. He'll give Trey plenty of notice."

In his announcement, Grayson stopped just short of declaring a run.

“I have no plans to run against Senator Bunning,” he said. “This exploratory committee will allow me to travel the Commonwealth, meet with potential supporters and lay the foundation for a campaign.”

Grayson has hired Voter Consumer Research of The Woodlands, Texas, to be his pollster, said Les Fugate, Grayson’s spokesman. It is the same public opinion research company used by McConnell.

Bunning, 77, is widely considered the most vulnerable incumbent in the 2010 cycle, and has faced increasing pressure from within the party to not seek re-election. He has publicly sparred with party leaders, including McConnell and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas, over the race.

Bunning told reporters during a Tuesday telephone press conference that his second-quarter fund-raising is going well.

He started the 2010 campaign cycle with a financial handicap after raising less money in the first quarter of the year than a key Democratic challenger.

Bunning pulled in $262,843, bringing his total fund-raising for the campaign to $786,850 and had $375,747 on hand at the end of March. Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, one of two major Democratic contenders for Bunning’s seat, has raised $429,552 since he started collecting money Feb. 17.

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