His total for the quarter was less than that of the Democrat he narrowly defeated in 2004, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, though Mongiardo's fund-raising slowed. He was far outpaced by Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, now the clear front-runner with $1.3 million in his initial quarter as a candidate.
More significantly, Bunning's total was about half the $602,000 reported by a fellow Northern Kentucky Republican, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who says his campaign is exploratory and that he has "no plans" to run against Bunning (after first saying that he wouldn't challenge him).
Grayson "still seems unwilling to simply acknowledge the obvious: He needs to declare his candidacy to push Bunning out of the race," Washington Post blogger Chris Cilizza wrote.
Not necessarily. Grayson's hope appears to be that Bunning's friends, some of whom have recently become Grayson's friends, will talk him into retirement. They can cite the latest numbers as a pre-primary vote by Republicans. Though his report reflected only two months of fundraising, Grayson has almost as much cash on hand as the incumbent.
Those numbers say Bunning should retire, and so do his poll numbers. So does his seat mate and former friend, Sen. Mitch McConnell, who may see his position as Senate Republican leader at risk if he can't keep his state's other seat at a time when the party desperately needs it. It was probably no coincidence that the latest numbers were accompanied by news that Justin Brasell, who managed McConnell's campaign last year, is now advising Grayson — even though he was already running the 2010 re-election bid of Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
In Louisville last week, conservative columnist George Will said his friend McConnell knows the Senate rules so well he is "the fourth branch of government." But Bunning has never been one to listen to scorekeepers. He has rejected McConnell's advice and taken their feud public.
The scorekeepers ask, why does Bunning fly in the face of the figures?
At his most fundamental, he is a competitor, and he has probably seen a scenario in which he could be re-elected: Grayson can't bring himself to mount a primary challenge; no other Republican can beat Bunning; and as the winner of the primary, he would attract enough money to be competitive — especially in a state where President Obama is not popular and could be even more unpopular at election time, depending on the economy and Obama's major legislation.
There's also the matter of the Democratic opposition. Conway has announced his qualified support for the House-passed bill aimed at mitigating climate change, which would increase electric rates — though not as much as claimed by Mongiardo, who is funded by coal interests and opposes the bill. It remains to be seen how much money Mongiardo will have to attack Conway on these and other fronts, but if the bill is still pending next year the coal industry will, as we say, pour the coal to it one way or another.
Conway has said the Senate should add tax credits to the bill to "offset any increases" in electric rates, and "make certain international agreements are enforced making China, India and other emerging economies play by the same rules as we do." But that doesn't mean limits on greenhouse gases. Asked what rules Conway means, campaign manager Mark Riddle replied, "We need accountability in trade agreements on standards."
In a state that has two coalfields and gets 91 percent of its electricity from coal, Conway's stance is politically risky. But he deserves credit for looking beyond short-term political gain for himself and thinking about long-term benefit for humanity. And because coal is mined in fewer Kentucky counties these days, it does not carry the political stick that it once did; the Democratic primary could be a measurement of that.
As for the general election, the betting in this old scorekeeper's press box remains that the Republican nominee will be Grayson. Bunning may be a proud competitor, but he hasn't been acting much like a candidate, and certainly not like a winner. The numbers show it. He may not like scorekeepers, but he does respect numbers. He retired from baseball when his pitches lost their zip and he was losing more games than he was winning. He must know that history is repeating itself.
Al Cross, former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky. His e-mail address is email@example.com. His views are his own, not those of the University of Kentucky.