McConnell skirts questions about Bunning

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell still won't say if he will endorse his fellow Republican senator from Kentucky.

"Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace brought up the 2010 race, in which 77-year-old U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning is seeking a third term. But Bunning has gotten a chilly reception from top Republicans and is struggling with fundraising.

McConnell, who has skirted the question several times in past weeks at state events, would only respond that the contest is still unfolding.

Bunning did not respond to a phone message Sunday seeking comment.

He has been sharply critical of McConnell, blaming him for losing Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democrats and costing the party Senate seats in 2008. He has also blamed GOP leaders for trying to thwart his fundraising in an effort to force him to retire.

"Well, what's happening in Kentucky, obviously, is the race has not yet formed," McConnell told Wallace on Sunday. "Senator Bunning has encouraged someone to file an exploratory committee. There are now two exploratory committees. And there's a Democratic primary on the other side. I think it's safe to say the Kentucky Senate race is unfolding."

When Wallace responded that he "didn't hear an endorsement there," McConnell said: "Well, it's — it's just not clear exactly who the players are going to be in Kentucky."

"So you're not endorsing him," Wallace tried again.

"It's not clear who the players are going to be yet," McConnell replied.

Bunning's two possible GOP rivals are Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Bowling Green eye surgeon Rand Paul, son of U.S. Rep. and former presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas.

Both have formed exploratory committees, which allow candidates to raise and spend money. Grayson, who has said he won't run unless Bunning decides to abandon his re-election bid, was given the green light by Bunning himself.

Paul on Friday announced the formation of his committee, praising Bunning for his conservative votes on the bank bailout and saying he will not challenge him if he stays in the race.

Paul said Sunday he feels sympathy for Bunning, who he feels is getting "some mistreatment" by GOP leaders who are publicly trying to push him out.

"But I think that Bunning has brought some of this on himself," Paul said. "It still makes no sense to me that he encouraged someone else to form an exploratory committee."

Grayson's campaign did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who lost to Bunning in 2004 by a narrow margin, and Attorney General Jack Conway, have announced their interest in the seat.

"The player on the Democratic side is going to be Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo," said Kim Geveden, an adviser to the Mongiardo campaign. "Sen. McConnell may not know who is going to be the player on the Republican side. Right now, they just seem to be on a circular firing squad and we'll just wait to see who comes out of it."

Mark Riddle, an adviser to the Conway campaign, did not immediately return a telephone message.

Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher who was the first to record 100 wins and 1,000 strikeouts in both the American and National Leagues, said during his weekly news conference last week he was encouraged by the response he got at a recent Kentucky Republican gathering and said he has a series of campaign fundraisers scheduled.

But he raised only $262,980 in the first quarter and has said he will need about $7 million to go up against a Democratic challenger.