For Bunning, ignorance is bliss

By Mary Jacoby
Published October 22, 2004 9:11PM (UTC)
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Sen. Jim Bunning's reelection woes continue in Kentucky. A speech he gave Thursday at the Rotary Club of Louisville -- intended to dispel speculation that his mental capacity has deteriorated -- backfired when he defiantly expressed ignorance of one of the biggest news stories of the past week. "I don't know anything about that," Bunning told reporters in response to a question about the refusal of a platoon of Army Reservists in Iraq to conduct a "suicide" mission to deliver fuel north of Baghdad in broken-down, un-armored trucks.

"Let me explain something," the senator continued. "I don't watch the national news, and I don't read the paper. I haven't done that for the last six weeks. I watch Fox News to get my information." Told that even the Republican cheerleaders at Fox News had covered the rebellious platoon, which included a soldier from Louisville, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee member said: "Not the times I watched it."


On Friday, the state's largest newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, ran an above-the-fold story about the baffling exchange. Sensing an upset, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) in Washington has pumped nearly $1.3 million into Kentucky in the last 10 days to support Bunning's underfunded Democratic challenger, state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo.

The Mongiardo campaign's polling shows the race dead even at 43 percent each. Bunning, a former major league baseball pitcher with wide name recognition, had previously led by more than 20 points.

The conservative Cincinnati Enquirer reported Friday that despite the recent uproar in Kentucky over Bunning's increasingly odd behavior -- in his sole "debate" with Mongiardo, he appeared via satellite from Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington and read his statements from a teleprompter -- a SurveyUSA poll shows Bunning still leading, 53 percent to 39 percent.


What the Enquirer failed to note, however, was that SurveyUSA polls are not conducted by live interviewers but instead rely on automated prompts to gather information about voter preferences. "An 8-year-old could answer the phone and press the buttons and SurveyUSA wouldn't know the difference," said DSCC spokesman Brad Woodhouse.

Mary Jacoby

Mary Jacoby is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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