Sunday, January 26, 2003

Kentucky Political Notebook

Kentucky Democrats will be treated to some unnerving news Monday when Sen. Jim Bunning rolls out that he has raised just over a million bucks for his 2004 re-election campaign.

The already bulging war chest of Mr. Bunning, a Southgate Republican and Northern Kentucky favorite son, won't make it easier for Democrats to trick - I mean, recruit - somebody into the race.

At this point, the Dems should have a pretty clear idea about who will take Mr. Bunning on. But so far, three Democrats - Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, state Treasurer Jonathan Miller and U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas of Boone County - are only thinking about getting in the race.

No one has (and here comes the standard baseball clichÈ that must be included in any story about Hall of Fame pitcher Mr. Bunning) stepped up to the plate against the Republican incumbent.

Somebody better, fast. The Bunning camp estimates that the Senate race will be the most expensive in Kentucky history, costing them as much as $8 million.

Long-time Bunning confidant Rick Robinson, a Fort Mitchell lawyer and former aide to Mr. Bunning in 12 years in the House of Representatives, said the Republicans want to maintain and build on the momentum from recent victories in Kentucky by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and President George W. Bush.

"McConnell and Bush won big in Kentucky, and we want to keep that going," said Mr. Robinson, who is serving as the campaign's state finance chairman. "We're aggressively raising money two years out, and we're not going to stop."

Also on the Bunning money team is John Cooper, probably the best-known lobbyist in Frankfort and, get this, a Democrat.

Mr. Cooper, an old college buddy of Mr. Robinson's, is heading up Democrats for Bunning. Overseeing fund-raising in the Fourth District is long-time Bunning supporter John Mocker of Boone County, who knows how to raise money about as well as he knows how to throw a party.

So when will a Democrat get in the race?

After Mr. Henry takes himself out of the governor's race this week, he may begin focusing on the `04 Senate election, but the question must be asked: If he didn't think he could win the governor's race, how does he plan to beat Mr. Bunning?

Mr. Lucas has spent a lot of time analyzing if he should get in. But now he may be leaning toward busting his three-term limit pledge and run again for the House in 2004.

Then there's always Charlie Owen, the wealthy Louisville businessman who is running for lieutenant governor with Ben Chandler, the state's attorney general who is now seeking the Dems' gubernatorial nomination.

Win or lose, Mr. Owen may give the race against Mr. Bunning a shot.

But really, at this point, it's all just pontification until someone steps up and makes the commitment to take on Jim Millionaire. And the longer the Dems wait, the farther behind they'll fall in the money race.


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