FRANKFORT — Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning warned GOP activists Saturday that he'll soon need help amassing at least $10 million to fund his campaign for a third term, which he expects will draw fierce Democratic opposition, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.
Then he laid down the gauntlet to any would-be Democratic challengers. "I'm telling you right now, we're going to kick butt in 2010," said Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher and two-term senator who hails from Northern Kentucky, reports veteran Herald-Leader political writer Ryan Alessi
His comments come as both parties take a deep breath after Tuesday's election and begin looking to the next cycle in 2010, when Bunning's Senate seat will be the top prize in Kentucky.
Already, a host of high-ranking Democratic officials are being mentioned as potential contenders. Bunning knows they're gunning for him, and says he's ready.
Speaking to the Kentucky Republican Party's state central committee members, Bunning praised the state GOP's performance in re-electing U.S. Senate leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday, and said the same level of commitment will be necessary for his race, reports the Herald-Leader.
"I want to make sure you understand something else: 2010 is not far off," he said. "There are no races in 2009, so you get a year off. But that doesn't mean I won't be knocking on your door, because it takes a minimum now of about $10 million to run a race for the U.S. Senate." "I'm sorry, I didn't make the rules," he added, prompting laughs.
This fall's Senate race between McConnell and Democrat Bruce Lunsford — a Louisville businessman who bankrolled much of his campaign — set the record for the most expensive political campaign in Kentucky history, the Herald-Leader reports.
While the final numbers aren't in, McConnell raised $17.8 million by Oct. 1, while Lunsford had collected $7.1 million, of which $5.5 million came from his bank account. In addition, national groups poured in millions of dollars more on behalf of both sides.
"I wouldn't be surprised if this most recent Senate race had a total of $50 million spent on it," said U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, a Hebron Republican.
Because that race involved the sitting Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, that level of spending isn't likely to be seen in Kentucky any time soon, but Bunning acknowledged that it raised the bar for future Senate campaigns, reports the newspaper.
His re-election campaign fund collected $491,000 over the last four years and started October with about $175,000 in the bank.
In his 2004 campaign, Bunning spent $6.7 million to fend off a late charge by a then-little known state senator, Daniel Mongiardo of Hazard. Bunning edged Mongiardo, now the lieutenant governor, by about 23,000 votes.
Bunning, 77, has insisted that he plans to seek a third six-year term in 2010 despite rumblings among officials from both parties that he might retire. He again made his intentions crystal clear to Republicans Saturday, the newspaper reports.
Davis said he is "quite confident that Sen. Bunning is going to run a campaign very similar to the campaigns we've run in our district and Sen. McConnell ran most recently that will demonstrate a level of tenacity and intensity that will set a new standard for campaigns in the commonwealth."
Meanwhile, a who's who of Democratic officials are eyeing the race. U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, remains the party's biggest name. But Chandler, since being elected to Congress in 2004, has passed on running for governor and challenging McConnell. On Wednesday, Chandler deflected questions about whether he'd seek the Senate in 2010, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.
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