By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SPARTA, Ky. - Kentucky U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning's 2004 re-election campaign took the concept of a political race to a whole new level Sunday.
As part of a fund-raising event at the Kentucky Speedway, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, donned a racing helmet to take a few laps in a NASCAR-level stock car.
"I think it's safer than just general driving in New York City," quipped Giuliani after two laps at 165 mph. "I loved it."
He was in town to support Bunning, a fellow Republican from Southgate, who will seek a second term next year. And while the two differ on some points, including abortion rights, both men stressed Sunday there were common denominators in the Republican party.
"This is for a cause - it's for the things you believe in," Giuliani said, adding that fund raising was the most difficult part of being a politician. "Money is critical to getting your viewpoint across, to having your viewpoint represented correctly. ... Thank you for supporting a truly great American."
An estimated 250 people attended the hour-long fund-raiser - including former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott - raising about $130,000. Most of Kentucky's major political candidates, elected officials, and party leaders spent the weekend in western Kentucky for the annual Fancy Farm picnic.
Bunning said he had already raised $3 million this year, and expected that total to top $4 million by the end of the year.
"We will be ready for anyone that the Democrats decide to nominate next May," he said. "I don't care who it is. I'll be ready for it."
But Guiliani's political views were not his only motive for supporting Bunning's re-election.
"I think it's good to keep him in the Senate because, when he was playing baseball, he used to beat the Yankees and the Mets all the time," he joked.
Giuliani joked that the partisan crowd included "more Republicans than in all of New York City."
His speech received several rounds of applause and laughter.
"Do we have any senators in New York?" Giuliani said at one point, pretending to be puzzled. "We all have two, right. One is from Brooklyn. The other is a Yankee fan."
On a more serious note, Giuliani also recalled his days as mayor, walking the city streets after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said it was important to have a Senate that supported President Bush in liberating Iraq.
Giuliani's and Bunning's differences on abortion issues didn't bother Boone County Republican Geoff Davis.
"I think the message is very clear," he said. "There's a great deal of issues that we have in common, despite our differences."
Tickets cost $100 a couple, although higher-paying ticket holders got their photo taken with Giuliani and Bunning. The top donors' names were put in a drawing for a chance to take a couple of laps in the race cars.
Riders included Bunning's wife Mary and longtime Democrat and Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley.
Chesley's presence raised eyebrows because when Bill Clinton was president, Chesley repeatedly hosted fund-raisers at his Amberley Village home for a political figure that many Republicans despise.
"Everyone knows I'm a Democrat, but I admire Bunning," Chesley said.
Chesley described his race car ride as "rough and tough," but unforgettable.
"This is absolutely the most fun I've ever had a political rally," he said.
The Associated Press contributed. E-mail email@example.com
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