Bunning raises less money than Democratic challenger

WASHINGTON -- Hall of Fame pitcher and U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning will start 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, R-Southgate, pulled in $262,843, bringing his total fund-raising for the campaign to $786,850. He 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. In a report filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission, Mongiardo reported having $388,500 on hand for the 2010 race.

Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, who last week announced he will seek the Democratic nomination, has not begun raising funds.

"When your challenger raises more money than an incumbent in a quarter, it's evidence that Bunning does not have a lot of support and he does not have the money to run the kind of race that he needs," said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor with the Cook Political Report. "He either tries to have a significantly better second quarter or he gives long, hard thought as to whether he really wants to run again."

Bunning is widely considered the most vulnerable incumbent senator in the 2010 election cycle. His first quarter fundraising performance is seen as a key indicator of his party’s support in what will likely prove one of the nation’s most closely watched races.

According to Bunning's most recent campaign filings, the senator's largest contributors include a $5,000 donation from defense contractor Raytheon’s political action committee, $4,000 from the Coal PAC, and thousands from the energy, insurance and business sectors. Most individual donations hovered in the low three- to four-figure range.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is scheduled to attend a private fundraiser for Bunning in Prospect, Ky., Thursday evening, and the senator recently hosted a fundraiser with baseball legend Tommy Lasorda.

Still, political analysts say Bunning will have to crank up his fundraising efforts over the next year. Experts estimate that, should the 2010 Kentucky Senate race prove high profile, Bunning will need roughly $1 million a month in order to mount a competitive campaign.

Not an easy task for a candidate whose campaign woes began early.

Bunning has openly battled with members of the Republican Party in recent weeks, accusing fellow Kentuckian Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, of being misleading when he told reporters at a gathering at the National Press Club that he was unsure whether Bunning would run for re-election. He also accused McConnell of stocking his own campaign war chest in the midst of the junior senator’s fundraising efforts for the 2010 race, stymieing Bunning's efforts.

McConnell has since remained largely mum on Bunning's campaign efforts.

Bunning sparred with National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and accused the NRSC of trying to court a primary challenger when members of that group met with state Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, in February. Cornyn said the meeting was a "courtesy visit" and that the party “would back Bunning in a contested primary.”

Bunning said he has not since spoken with Cornyn and only exchanged a brief greeting with McConnell during a recent political dinner.

According to reports in several publications, Bunning told lobbyists at a National Mining Association fundraiser in February in Washington that he would resign if he is unable to raise money and garner broader support in his campaign for a third term. Bunning denied the reports and calls the current fundraising climate "lousy."

Fellow Republican and former Ohio congressman Rob Portman raised $1.7 million this quarter in his bid to win a Senate seat. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who often faces primary challenges, raised just under $1.3 million this quarter and has a $6.7 million war chest.

Comparatively, Bunning's numbers fall far short.

"Right now Cornyn is taking two Advil and McConnell is taking four," Duffy said. "On paper this was the most vulnerable seat. Now that we have some figures, it is Republicans' most vulnerable seat by a lot."

Bunning has also had run-ins with the media. On several occasions, Bunning lashed out at and cursed reporters for questioning whether he would meet fundraising goals.

Such public squabbles are unsettling to would-be campaign donors, notes Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

In the meantime, there are potential GOP candidates waiting in the wings.

Republicans "would be better served with the Secretary of State Trey Grayson. He's younger and more vigorous," Sabato said. "He clearly wants to run if Bunning steps aside."

Grayson has described Bunning as a friend and mentor and refuses to run against him in a primary.

However, "If (Bunning) were to change his mind, I would definitely be interested in the race," Grayson said.

Bunning recently told reporters that he considered July 1 a much better fundraising benchmark and acknowledged that he has a tough road ahead.

"There's nobody to blame for bad fundraising but the candidate," Duffy said. "It comes down to Senator Bunning and whether he wants to spend the next 18 months trying to raise $20 million."