Bunning dodges debate amid more weirdness


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Mary Jacoby
October 22, 2004 2:58AM (UTC)

Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning on Thursday declined an invitation from "Meet the Press" to appear alongside his Democratic challenger on the political affairs show this Sunday, a move that has added to questions about the Republican's mental competence.

The issue of Bunnings mental health has gripped Kentucky politics since Oct. 11, when the nearly 73-year-old incumbent suddenly insisted on "debating" state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo via satellite from Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. Bunning said he was needed in Washington for votes; but the Mongiardo campaign questioned that explanation, noting that the Senate had adjourned until after the Nov. 2 election.

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Then, Bunning was caught reading his closing and opening statements at the Oct. 11 debate from a prohibited teleprompter, causing the Louisville Courier-Journal to ask in an editorial if he was in full command of his faculties.

Bunnings apparent fear of the spontaneous continued this week when he didn't show up on Monday for a debate with Mongiardo at a Kentucky television station, leaving the stage to the Democrat for 30 minutes. Then, he turned down the offer to appear on "Meet the Press" for a discussion with Mongiardo moderated by Tim Russert.

In rare comments to the media, Bunning told a press gaggle this week that rumors about his mental health were the "lowest of the low." But he continues to make strange comments. On Tuesday, he tried to defend his earlier remark that Mongiardo supporters had beaten his wife "black and blue" at a summer political event by adding what he apparently hoped would be a convincing detail: His wife's assailants, the senator explained, had been "people in little green jump suits."

The senator, who has previously said he believes terrorists are targeting him, was apparently referring to the green doctors' scrubs that Mongiardo supporters sometimes wear at campaign events to publicize their candidate, a surgeon from Hazard, Ky. A Mongiardo campaign spokesman has denied that anyone from the campaign roughed up the senator's wife two months ago, calling the senator's accusation "outlandish" and "sad."


Mary Jacoby

Mary Jacoby is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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