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For the GOP, Trouble in Kentucky

Anyone who’s wandered the halls of the Capitol in recent years is likely well familiar with the irascible Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.). The Hall of Fame baseball pitcher strikes an imposing figure, with a 6’3″ frame and an agitated face the color of a squeezed beet. (It means he’s angry.)

To reporters, he’s a guy who can provide great copy from afar — often laying into witnesses at congressional hearings with an alacrity that can’t be insincere — only to dismiss one-on-one inquiries with grunts of annoyed inarticulation.

Well, it seems Bunning’s crotchety nature is more liability than he knew. As The New York Times reports this morning, even Republicans have had about enough of the Kentuckian’s attitude. In fact Senate GOP leaders are vetting possible contenders to replace Bunning in 2010 even as Bunning is screaming from the rafters that he plans to run for reelection.

From The Times:

Republicans are trying to rid themselves of Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, the former baseball star who clearly has little use for some colleagues and party leaders, and who keeps exhibiting what one senator calls “behavior issues.”

Key Republicans are gently (or not gently enough) trying to dissuade Mr. Bunning from seeking re-election in 2010 out of concern that his paltry fund-raising, declining approval ratings and irascible conduct have made him something between vulnerable and unelectable.

But in recent weeks, Mr. Bunning has shown no sign of stepping aside and delivered a string of incendiary pronouncements that have fed an impression that he is, to go with a baseball metaphor, a bit of a screwball.

Long a safe bet for Republicans, Kentucky has slowly shifted toward the Democrats in recent years. Although Sen. John McCain won the state by a 17-point margin in November, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader, held his seat by a count of just 53 to 47 percent. With Republicans and Democrats going after Bunning, it’ll be no easy task for the 77-year-old to keep his place in Washington in 2011.

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