Dueling demonstrators went head to head in Lexington just hours before Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning abandoned his one-man blockade of a stopgap funding bill for an extension of unemployment benefits and a host of other federal programs that expired Sunday.
"This is about Republican hypocrisy," declared Ron Moore, an unemployed Louisville resident who drove to Bunning's Lexington office on Tuesday to demonstrate against the Kentucky Republican and in support of Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, one of the Democrats trying to win Bunning's soon-to-be open seat.
Nearby, Lexington resident Mike Stephens held a sign that read "Thank you, Jim Bunning," part of a group that supports Bunning's stand and the candidacy of one of the Republicans who'd like to replace him, Rand Paul.
"We do not need government to get any bigger," Stephens said.
Crowds that huddled around Mongiardo chanted "Stand with Dr. Dan," while people holding Rand Paul signs shouted back "Pay Go, Pay Go," in reference to Bunning's insistence for a week that Congress pay for the $10 billion spending bill.
About seven Lexington police officers stood around the service road off Corporate Drive, occasionally moving people who tried to interrupt speakers. There appeared to be more than 100 people who attended the rallies.
Jenny Given of Versailles carried a large American flag in support of Bunning.
"He's standing up for what's right," she said. "No more free rides ... we're in trouble, and Jim Bunning is the only one standing up."
Susan Turner drove from Frankfort to support Mongiardo and protest against Bunning. "We are evolving into very mean people," she said. "We see people voting against the most vulnerable people in Kentucky."
Mongiardo, who was the only Democratic U.S. Senate candidate at the gathering, insisted the event was not part of his campaign. "This is not about politics," he proclaimed. "It's about standing up for the unemployed of Kentucky right now."
David Adams, Paul's campaign manager, said Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, couldn't attend the event because he was in surgery. However, Paul appeared in a live interview on CNN at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Adams said Bunning's moves have "drawn a line in the sand over the size of government. This is the best discussion we can have right now."
Another Republican candidate, Bill Johnson, also appeared. "At some point, we have to stop deficit spending," he said, adding that he thought two years of unemployment benefits was too much.
Bunning, a 77-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher, was the only senator who had objected to a voice vote on the spending bill.
Two other candidates for Bunning's seat, Republican Trey Grayson and Democrat Jack Conway, did not appear at Bunning's office, but have expressed their sentiments down party lines.
In news releases, Grayson has supported Bunning's stance, while Conway called on Bunning to end the stalemate.
According to the National Employment Law Project, a research group, some 1.2 million unemployed workers, including 14,000 in Kentucky, stood to lose federal jobless benefits this month.
Bunning had become the butt of jokes by late-night comedians and the target of much more serious ire from people around the country, including his constituents.
Todd Murgatroyd of Columbus, Ohio, is an unemployed college football coach whose benefits would have expired Saturday. He's angry at Bunning for the stalemate, particularly after Bunning reportedly flipped the bird to an ABC reporter in Washington on Monday.
"It's deplorable that he can do things like that and get away with it," Murgatroyd said. "If he cared about the people of Kentucky or the country, he would put his personal agenda aside and say these people are hurting. He's the only person standing in the way."
Mike Young of Lexington has been out of work almost a year, after decades as a computer specialist with IBM.
"Most people aren't out of work by choice," Young said Tuesday at Lexington's unemployment office. "They need to find more jobs ... they ought to be doing something for the typical man."