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Outspoken Jim Bunning embarrasses GOP

By A. James Memmott

March 9, 2009 at 6:14am

In baseball, most pitchers don’t want to be taken out of the game.

A case in point: Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, who is resisting suggestions from his own party that he not seek re-election in 2010.

The New York Times reported last week that some Republican leaders would prefer that Bunning, 77, not seek a third term.

Jim Bunning
Jim Bunning

“His paltry fund-raising, declining approval ratings and irascible conduct have made him something between vulnerable and unelectable,” the Times wrote.

The story examined a feud that went public last month when Bunning said he would sue the National Republican Senatorial Committee if it supported someone who ran against him in a primary.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the committee’s chairman, then said that his group would not back a Bunning opponent.

“I don’t believe anything John Cornyn says,” Bunning told Louisville’s Courier-Journal in response. “He either doesn’t understand English or he doesn’t understand direct: ‘I’m going to run,’ which I said to him in the cloakroom of our chamber.”

Bunning does have a reputation for speaking his mind, for better or for worse.

On Feb. 21 he told listeners at a Republican dinner that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was operated on earlier in the month for pancreatic cancer, might not survive for more than nine months. Bunning subsequently apologized.

During his 2004 re-election campaign, Bunning had this to say about his sources of information:

“Let me explain something: I don’t watch the national news, and I don’t read the paper. I haven’t done that for the last six weeks. I watch Fox News to get my information,” he said.

Bunning defeated Daniel Mongiardo, a physician, in 2004, getting 51 percent of the votes cast. Bunning caused controversy in that election by saying Mongiardo looked like one of Saddam Hussein’s sons.

In 1998, Bunning won his first Senate term by 6,766 votes, defeating Scotty Baesler, a Democratic congressman.

Previous to his election to the Senate, Bunning served in the House of Representatives for seven terms. Earlier, he was a member of the Kentucky Senate and a city councilman in Fort Thomas, Ky.

Bunning pitched in the Major Leagues from 1955 to 1971.

Playing for the Detroit Tigers, the Philadephia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers, he had a career record of 224 wins and 184 losses.

He pitched two no-hit games in his career, the second a perfect game for the Phillies in 1964. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996 by the Veterans Committee.

Named one of the five worst senators in 2006 by Time magazine, Bunning has established a reputation as fiscal conservative.

He voted against last month’s stimulus bill saying, “All this bill offers is spending, spending and more spending.”

Away from Congress, Bunning has received some criticism for his involvement with the Jim Bunning Foundation, a not-for-profit he established in 1996.

Bunning’s wife, Mary, is the foundation’s president. Bunning, who contributes money he gets at autograph-signing events, is the foundation’s sole employee.

Federal records indicate that he was paid $20,000 by the foundation in 2007, more than the $18,200 the organization gave away.

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