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Republicans, fearing Democratic rout in 2010, try to ease Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning into retirement

Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, the most vulnerable GOP senator up for re-election in 2010

Republicans, worried that Democrats could strengthen their hold on the U.S. Senate in 2010, are mounting a not-so-quiet effort to get Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) to retire.

In an increasingly purple state, where even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had a close call in last year's election, Bunning is considered a serious underdog. In fact, many believe that he is the most vulnerable incumbent up for reelection.

Republican strategists insist that they will not fund a challenger against him in the GOP primary. But they worry that if Bunning does not retire, Democrats could pick up the seat and give the Dems a veto-proof majority.

So, over the weekend, according to The Hill, officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee met with state Sen. David Williams to explore his candidacy. The president of the state Senate was in Washington for the National Governors' Assn. meeting.

Meanwhile, Bunning probably hurt his own case with an outrageous comment that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be dead within “nine months.” In the course of explaining his support for conservative judges to a crowd at the Lincoln Day Dinner at the Old State Theater in Hardin County, Ky.,  Bunning said that a fight over a new Supreme Court justice would start “very shortly because Ruth Bader Ginsburg … has cancer ... bad cancer. The kind that you don’t get better from."

The 75-year-old Ginsburg returned to work at the Supreme Court today with a report from her doctors that her tumor had turned out to be benign and had not spread.

Bunning, a retired Hall of Fame pitcher, has been known for wild verbal excesses before.

During the 2004 election, he said his opponent -- state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo -- looked like one of Saddam Hussein's sons. And he accused Mongiardo's staff of roughing up the senator's wife. He also upped his security detail, telling a Paducah TV station, "There may be strangers among us."

The two-term senator has raised very little money for a reelection bid this cycle, with his campaign bank account actually shrinking between the third and fourth quarter last year.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Getty Images

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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