WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky said Monday he will not run for a third term in 2010, citing a lack of campaign money and interference from Senate Republicans who were pushing for him to exit the race.
In a statement issued by his office, Bunning said his GOP colleagues had done "everything in their power to dry up my fundraising."
Bunning, 77, has been considered the GOP's most vulnerable senator since a razor-thin re-election in 2004 and a public spat with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has made it clear he would like his embattled colleague to retire as he tries to boost his party's numbers in the Senate.
McConnell has had a tough job, as Republicans are coming off back-to-back losses that cost them control of Congress and the presidency. Next year, they will have to defend seats in several competitive states with no incumbents, including Florida, Ohio, Missouri and New Hampshire.
In addition, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched parties from Republican to Democrat as he tries to defend his seat. The latest election filings show that from April through June, Bunning raised less than half the total of Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a 37-year-old Republican who has been eyeing his seat.
In the statement, Bunning, first elected to Congress in 1986, said that to win a general election, a candidate has to be able to raise millions of dollars for advertising and campaign events.
"The simple fact is that I have not raised the funds necessary to run an effective campaign for the U.S. Senate," Bunning said.
Bunning spokesman Mike Reynard said Bunning was in Washington on Monday and did not plan any public appearances to announce his retirement. He plans to work as usual in the Senate this week, Reynard said.
An often irascible former pitcher enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame, Bunning has been considered weak because of his lackluster financing and narrow wins in his previous two elections. He is also known for making comments that some find objectionable, including a suggestion earlier this year that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may die within a year from pancreatic cancer. He later apologized.
During his 2004 race that ended in a narrow victory over then-state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, Bunning said his Democratic opponent - who is of Italian descent - looked like one of Saddam Hussein's sons. Bunning defended himself against critics in his statement.
"Speaking out against bailouts and wasteful spending supported by the Republican leadership in the Senate and a Republican president last year angered many of my colleagues in my own party, but I didn't run for public office for fame or public acclaim," he said.
Until Monday's announcement, Bunning has insisted he was running for re-election as two Republicans - Grayson and Republican Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas - have readied campaigns without officially getting into the race. His retirement could give the GOP a leg up in next year's election in the Republican state.
Grayson began the campaign saying he would not challenge Bunning but has since modified his position to say only that he has no plans to do so. Grayson praised Bunning in a statement as he indicated he will soon make his candidacy official.
"I will soon transition my exploratory committee to an official campaign committee, but today it is appropriate that we honor the exceptional career of Sen. Jim Bunning and take time to thank him for his extraordinary service to our state and nation," he said.
Paul, who has raised about $100,000 since he formed an exploratory committee in May, has said he'd announce before Aug. 20 on whether he'd get in. A political consultant for Paul said Monday his plans have not changed since Bunning 's announcement. Despite the state's Republican tilt, Democrats have a strong field in Jack Conway, Kentucky's attorney general, who raised $1.3 million since April, and Mongiardo, who is now the state's lieutenant governor and came within about 23,000 votes of unseating Bunning five years ago.
Bunning declined to endorse a candidate in the Republican primary, but he said he's certain the seat will stay in GOP hands.
"The Republican Party needs more people with strong principles and convictions that can stand up to the temptations of political power that have engulfed so many of our leaders after they arrive inside the beltway," Bunning said.
University of Louisville political science professor Dewey Clayton said Bunning 's retirement is welcome news for the GOP.
"I'm sure they are happy now that they can put up a stronger candidate," Clayton said.
Tense relations between McConnell and Bunning had been a central part of the race's opening months. The two men barely speak and have sniped at each other through the press, with Bunning saying it would be better for his chances of re-election if McConnell, who won his own bruising re-election last year, didn't endorse him.
Publicly, McConnell has skirted questions about whether he would endorse his GOP colleague and has said only that the Republican race "has not yet formed." The Senate GOP leader did not refer to their differences in a statement following Bunning 's announcement, saying he has been honored to work with his colleague.
"Kentucky is a far better place because of his service," McConnell said.
Kentucky GOP stalwart Larry Forgy, a two-time gubernatorial candidate, blamed McConnell for Bunning 's exit and said many conservatives would have resentment. Forgy said McConnell's statement about Bunning on Monday was "hypocritical and false."