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By Jay Cost

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Pressure Mounts on Jim Bunning

On Tuesday I noted that the Republican Party organization is lining up to support Arlen Specter in his battle against Pat Toomey. Meanwhile, it appears to be moving against Jim Bunning.

Our former colleague Reid Wilson has an interesting article at The Hill, which features this little tidbit:

Bunning will face either a rematch with Mongiardo or a battle with state Attorney General Jack Conway (D), who announced his own candidacy last week. Conway is rapidly scooping up support from prominent Kentucky Democrats while Mongiardo has backing from Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

If Bunning leaves the contest, Republican sources close to Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) say Grayson is prepared to make a bid, and that he would make his announcement within hours of Bunning's own. [Emphasis mine]

I'd take that as a strong signal of the party's intention. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, we'll have a replacement within hours!

The main thrust of this story is that Bunning's first quarter fundraising numbers were dreadful:

Bunning raised just $263,000 in the first quarter, finishing March with $376,000 in the bank. Making matters worse, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, the only Democrat who raised money during the quarter, brought in almost $430,000 after just more than a month of fundraising.

As Reid reports, Mitch McConnell, who is not up for reelection for six years, actually outraised Bunning. That makes me suspect that the party establishment is actually trying to freeze Bunning out. It's impossible to know for sure - frustratingly, all of the really interesting stuff of party politics occurs behind doors that are closed, locked, and flanked by armed guards. But I'd note with interest that Mitch McConnell's Bluegrass PAC contributed to eight Republican senators during the previous filing period: Burr, Specter, Crapo, DeMint, Grassley, Isakson, Shelby, and Thune. It chipped in to the NRSC, the Kentucky GOP, the Coleman recount fund, and even Rob Portman's campaign to replace George Voinovich in Ohio. However, not a dime to Bunning. From the looks of Bunning's recent fundraising report, Republican politicos and money (wo)men are taking the cue from McConnell and company.

Not only is the GOP not helping Bunning out, it's also blasting him for not getting any help (anonymously, of course):

"Given what [Bunning will] need to compete in 2010, this is a disaster," said one Kentucky GOP operative. "The margin for tactical error since his race in 2004 has decreased dramatically, and the amount it takes to win in 2010 has increased dramatically."

Talk about adding insult to injury!

Overall, I find this Bunning story fascinating. The party organization has limited means at its disposal to push incumbent candidates out of a race. None of them are particularly efficient - sometimes they can work, but it is typically messy. So, they are rarely employed. But it looks to me like the party is doing everything it can to push Bunning out. This is a rare occurrence - and one to keep watching if you're interested in how the party actually functions.

-Jay Cost