Bunning Calls McConnell 'Control Freak'

Can you say "same party?" U.S. Senator Jim Bunning was asked about his fellow Kentucky senator declining to endorse his campaign for re-election during a nationwide TV appearance over the weekend.

Can you say "same party?" U.S. Senator Jim Bunning was asked about his fellow Kentucky senator declining to endorse his campaign for re-election during a nationwide TV appearance over the weekend. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell indicated in the interview that the Kentucky race is still unsettled. He also referred to the two exploratory races being conducted by Secretary of State Trey Grayson and by Rand Paul, MD... the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Bunning now indicates he might be better off without McConnell's endorsement in the 2010 primary, which is now less than a year away. Bunning also referred to McConnell as a "control freak."

In recent weeks, Bunning has turned up his criticism of McConnell. He blamed McConnell for Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's switch from Republican to Democrat. And Bunning notes that the GOP has lost seats in the senate while McConnell has held the chamber's top two party leadership posts.

Safely re-elected last year, McConnell doesn't have to say much about the race nor the criticism. Whichever Republican is nominated will likely long for McConnell's support and maybe even strategic advice as the fall campaign gets underway with one of two well packaged and youthful Democrats.

Bunning had a regional Northern Kentucky base in 1998, when he ran for the senate and quickly picked up McConnell's endorsement and strategic help. I still remember McConnell's look at Fancy Farm that year when Democrat Scotty Baesler went over the top in an attempt to display energy in a speech. McConnell knew it was captured on tape and some slick editing and eery music later, the Bunning camp had a commercial spot that made the low key Baesler look like a wild man.

McConnell also aided in Bunning's 2004 re-election effort, when the baseball hall of famer barely got by State Senator Dan Mongiardo. Bunning won by less than 2 percentage points even as President George W. Bush breezed to easy victory in Kentucky. Anything McConnell did for Bunning could have made all the difference in that razor thin margin.

Now comes 2004 and the two former allies seem increasingly estranged. McConnell hasn't offered Bunning his support and Bunning has hurled a few fast balls in the direction of the minority leader. McConnell needs the Republicans to hold this seat. The math is very difficult for the GOP if they start losing in states that have gone red in the last few years. The coming year will be very interesting to watch.

As I said in an earlier post... those who would challenge Bunning probably don't have a lot of time to "explore" their options. He has name recognition, incumbency and a reputation for toughness. Even those who talk about opposing him have said they generally agree with his voting record. The idea of Bunning dropping out seems increasingly remote as he becomes more engaged in the campaign and more determined to win one more. I talk to a lot of folks who are politically engaged and active... but sometimes it's those who are just average voters who make the most interesting observations... An average voter said to me recently "infighting never looks good." Well that's going on in both parties right now.

We'll keep watching.
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