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December 29, 2008

A Bluegrass brawl

One of the marquee Senate races in 2010 will take place in Kentucky, where Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) will be seeking a third term – and Democrats are eagerly eyeing the challenge of ousting him from office.

The latest Democrat to throw her name out is state Auditor Crit Luallen. National Democrats tried to get Luallen to run against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last year before she passed up the opportunity.

Luallen told the Associated Press that she “has gotten a lot of encouragement” to jump in the race, but that she hasn’t made a final decision.

She joins two other prominent statewide officials who also are mulling campaigns against Bunning. The state’s highly-regarded 39-year-old Attorney General, Jack Conway, has been mulling a run. So has lieutenant governor Daniel Mongiardo, who came close to defeating Bunning in 2004.

Conway has been most aggressive in preparing for a potential campaign, according to Kentucky political observers. His allies are courting both state and national supporters and donors in preparation for a statewide campaign.

Kentucky is seen as one of the Democrats’ top pickup opportunities in the 2010 cycle, given the strong bench of Democratic candidates and the relative weakness of the 77-year old Bunning, who has barely won two races in a solidly Republican state. Chris “The Fix” Cillizza ranked it as the most likely seat to flip.

Bunning has said he will be running for re-election, but at 77, some are skeptical of his commitment to serve another six years in the Senate. He only reported $175,000 in his campaign coffers at the end of September, and would have to begin serious fundraising efforts in preparation for a competitive campaign.

Republicans might like their chances with another candidate, like Secretary of State Trey Grayson, at the top of the ticket.

Any Democrat would have a challenge winning statewide in Kentucky, which is still fundamentally a solidly Republican state. President-elect Obama won only 41 percent of the vote here, and McConnell defeated Democratic businessman Bruce Lunsford by six points despite being a top Republican target. The GOP also held onto an open seat in the state’s Second District in a race that Democrats also targeted.