Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson has formed an exploratory committee to run for Jim Bunning’s Senate seat, according to the Politico. Grayson insists that he has no intention of challenging Bunning in a primary:
In a statement, Grayson said he doesn’t plan on running against Bunning, and is merely making preparations to run in case Bunning does not run for a third term.
“I have formed an exploratory committee to allow me to formally raise and spend funds as I seek support for a bid for U.S. Senate,” Grayson said in a statement.
Grayson’s camp is saying that the decision to form an exploratory was done at Bunning’s suggestion — indicating that Bunning is leaning heavily toward retirement:
“Trey did this with Bunning’s blessing,” said van Lohuizen.
Earlier this week, Grayson flew to Washington to meet with Bunning and tell him of his plans to form the exploratory committee, according to a Kentucky-based GOP operative. The operative said it’s a clear sign that Bunning does not plan to run for another term.
“Jim Bunning is the one who initiated the conversations with Trey to take this step. This wasn’t Trey lashing out, this is Jim Bunning reaching out to Trey and offering this idea,” said the GOP operative.
In the past, Bunning has been mostly firm (in fact, very firm) on his desire to seek re-election — with the exception of resignation rumors and some waffling last month on the certainty of his decision. But this news will give us a pretty clear window to his true intentions — Bunning famously lashed out at any suggestion that he was considering retirement earlier in the year, and you would have to assume that he would shoot down this story if he wasn’t considering abandoning the Republican tortoise.
Assuming Bunning is out and Grayson is in, this race will get a lot tougher for Team Blue, but it would still be quite winnable if the Democratic primary does not devolve into a demolition derby.
UPDATE: Roll Call‘s sources are confirming Bunning’s blessing of Grayson, and Kentucky Republicans believe a retirement announcement could come as soon as May 9 at the state’s Lincoln Day Dinner. Meanwhile, Camp Bunning is staying mum.
LATER UPDATE: Bunning’s team is now refuting the retirement rumors:
But a spokesman for Mr. Bunning, Mike Reynard, refuted those rumors. “Senator Bunning has every intention of running, ” he said in an e-mailed statement. […]
[A senior Republican Congressional] aide was at a loss to explain why Mr. Bunning would then say on Thursday evening that he had every intention of running.
Is there a chance that these rumors are being planted by operatives of Mitch McConnell? It wouldn’t be too surprising, given how desperately he wants Bunning out of the picture. Still no confirmation or denial from Bunning himself about the Grayson “recruitment”.