Bunning-McConnell Feud Clouds Kentucky Republican Dinner

Posted May 10, 2009 at 11:55am

The growing public tension between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Kentucky GOP Sen. Jim Bunning was among the unavoidable topics Saturday as Bluegrass state Republicans gathered at the state party’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Louisville, according to local news reports.

In his remarks to the roughly 400 party activists, Bunning reiterated his plan to run for another term next year but did not make any specific comments about McConnell — whose leadership he had pointedly criticized earlier in the week. In one comment that could be considered a jab at the Senate leader, he said, “I am nobody’s puppet, I am my own man.”

Meanwhile, McConnell heaped praise on Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R), whose move to set up a Senate exploratory committee and begin raising money for a statewide bid — with Bunning’s blessing — set off furious speculation that the junior Senator was close to announcing his retirement.

McConnell only mentioned Bunning in passing, and afterwards he would not say if he believes Bunning should get a primary challenge or if he would contribute to Bunning’s re-election campaign, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

Grayson served as master of ceremonies for the event, which was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Galt House and had several potential Senate candidates in attendance. Bunning and McConnell sat at separate tables and didn’t acknowledge each other in passing before they entered the ballroom for the event, according to the Courier-Journal.

“Now there’s no question, and there’s no hiding the fact that there’s a little tension in the air among us Republicans here this evening,” state House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover told the audience, according to local news reports. “But that’s all right. That can be healthy.”

The winner of the Republican primary is all but certain to face either Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo or state Attorney General Jack Conway, who are facing off for the Democratic nomination.