Senator Jim Bunning's capriciousness -- skipping important Senate business this week to attend family events -- raises a real question about whether Kentucky Republicans can risk nominating him to seek reelection.
Bunning barely squeaked by six years ago; he won by one percent. He ran a weak campaign and only pulled out a win when Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell stepped in to campaign with Bunning, and by many accounts, took control of the campaign.
Six years ago, prominent Democrats spread rumors about Bunning's health, and even suggested that he was suffering from dementia. Given the effectiveness with which national Democrats played the age card against Sen. John McCain, we can count on rumors about Bunning's health to grow nastier and more frequent through the election. In part, this is because, at 77, Bunning is older than McCain.
Certainly, Bunning has a responsibility to be honest with the people of Kentucky if he has a serious health issue. Regardless, Democrats once again will suggest that Bunning is incapable of fulfilling the duties of office. And they will trot out actuarial tables to give us the odds that Bunning might not survive another term. God forbid that anything happens to Bunning. Democrats well know, however, that Kentucky's governor, Steve Beshear -- a Democrat -- would appoint a replacement in the event of Bunning's death or incapacity.
Bunning was hospitalized with pneumonia for a week before this past November's election. Pneumonia must be taken seriously, but in a 77 year-old, it's alarming.
Perhaps this recent hospitalization is why Bunning insisted that he would attend family events and skip Senate votes, hearings and Republican strategy meetings. It's understandable: a brush with a serious illness often forces people to re-prioritize.
While Democrats speculate on whether Bunning can serve, Republicans should ask ourselves whether he really wants to keep up the relentless pace that the Senate demands. We cannot afford to reelect a Senator who might decide to retire part-way through his term (like Trent Lott did, last session).
In addition to leaving Kentuckians unrepresented this past week while visiting family, Bunning left Republicans short a vote at a time when we don't have very many.
If Republicans lose Bunning's seat, we will no longer have the 40 seats necessary to filibuster the massive expansion of government that the left is preparing to unleash. If Bunning's seat changes parties, Democrats will have a filibuster-proof super majority. One seat -- Bunning's seat -- can make that difference. This fact is not lost upon the Democrats.
The Washington Post already has deemed Bunning one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country. This race will draw massive amounts of money from the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a variety of left-wing special interest groups. Look for a visit from President Barack Obama, no less, in support of whomever the Democrats nominate.
Yet Bunning has raised almost no money -- which further suggests that he is not serious or at best is ambivalent about whether he really wants to serve another term.
Bunnning has been the darling of conservative talk radio on the bailout and other issues. To be sure, the conservative movement needs his voice, but not necessarily in the Senate. He can influence public policy from the sidelines and still have plenty of time to enjoy his family. There is still time for Bunning to forgo a campaign that will be ugly and might be fruitless.