WASHINGTON — Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning announced Monday he is ending his bid for a third term, bringing to a close a multimonth-long saga that pitted the 77-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher against Republican leadership that urged the lawmaker to step aside for the good of the party.
"Unfortunately, running for office is not just about the issues," Bunning said in a statement Monday. "To win a general election, a candidate has to be able to raise millions of dollars to get the message out to voters. Over the past year, some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fundraising. The simple fact is that I have not raised the funds necessary to run an effective campaign for the U.S. Senate. For this reason, I will not be a candidate for re-election in 2010."
Without naming names, Bunning said in a statement Monday afternoon that “some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fundraising.”
Lexington attorney Larry Forgy, who is a friend of Bunning, said Bunning was referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville.
“McConnell treats friends like some people treat Pampers –disposable,” Forgy said. “I’m sorry he treated Bunning this way, doing everything he could to keep campaign money coming his way.
“Bunning was seriously mistreated by McConnell and by Trey Grayson, who raised money against him.”
Secretary of State Grayson, who has raised more than $600,000 to explore the possibility of entering the GOP race, had no immediate comment on Bunning’s decision not to seek re-election.
Forgy said he has not yet picked a candidate in the race.
Bill Stone, a Louisville businessman and long-time Bunning friend and ally, said he was not surprised that the Hall of Fame pitcher decided not to seek re-election.
“As his personal friend, I’m glad that he is not going to put himself through it again,” Stone said. “We are going to lose one of the most principled, solid and most conservative voices in this country.”
Bunning rarely got credit for his understanding of the national economy. Bunning has been an outspoken critic of bank bail outs and other President Obama economic initiatives.
“In 24 years, no one had to explain an issue to Jim Bunning,” Stone said. “He has been right from day one about the economy.”
But Stone and other Republicans said they were confident that Grayson – if and when he makes his bid official – could keep the seat with the Republican Party.
“This extremely activist and left-wing government does not need help from Kentucky,” Stone said. “ And I think people in Kentucky really understand that.”
Other Republicans who have expressed an interest in the race are Bowling Green ophthalmologist Rand Paul, son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul; Cathy Bailey, a former U.S. ambassador to Latvia; and Bill Johnson, a Todd County Navy veteran and businessman.
Paul’s campaign manager, David Adams, said the Paul campaign “has nothing but good things to say about Bunning, especially his votes on bailouts.”
Paul will continue with his committee to explore the possibility of entering the race, Adams said.
Bailey could not be immediately reached for comment.
Democrats in the race are Attorney General Jack Conway, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Louisville businessman Maurice Sweeney.
Conway said in a statement that Bunning “should be thanked for his many years of service in the public arena. I wish him and his family well in the next chapter of their lives.
“As for the political race in 2010, I look forward to facing whoever the Republican nominee will be next fall.”
Mongiardo said in a statement that his “campaign has never been about Jim Bunning, but fighting for affordable health care, affordable energy, and good jobs for Kentucky’s hard-working families. Today’s announcement does not change that.”