BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FORT MITCHELL -- Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Bunning and Democrat Ken Lucas lead their respective races in fund-raising as the fall campaign heads into its final weeks.
In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, Mr. Bunning of Southgate had nearly $1.5 million in the bank at the end of September -- the deadline for the latest campaign finance reports -- compared with just over $556,000 for U.S. Rep Scotty Baesler, a Lexington Democrat.
In the race for the 4th District U.S. House seat Mr. Bunning is vacating, Mr. Lucas, the former Boone County judge-executive, has raised $760,000 compared to $615,000 for Republican state Sen. Gex "Jay" Williams of Verona.
As far as cash on hand, Mr. Williams has about $138,000, but listed debts of $84,000. Mr. Lucas had cash on hand of about $90,000 and debts of just $169.
Both U.S. House campaigns have also recently spent heavily on television advertising for the campaigns' stretch run.
Mr. Williams has purchased $100,000 in TV time for commercials, including some on Cincinnati stations, said Craig Hendricks, the campaign's manager.
Mr. Lucas has more than doubled Mr. Williams' buy with $215,000 in commercial time, said John Lapp, Mr. Lucas' campaign manager. Mr. Lucas' commercials are running on local stations. Mr. Williams' spots are scheduled to begin Monday.
Mr. Lapp said Mr. Williams "is a candidate in search of a message." "I think it says volumes that the Williams campaign has yet to broadcast on television," Mr. Lapp said.
Mr. Hendricks said the Williams campaign does not really care "how much money Mr. Lucas raises or spends.
"We have a plan and it will be fully implemented," he said. "Our grass-roots campaign, combined with our positive issues agenda . . . will lead us to victory. . . ."
In the Senate race, money will be a central issue as campaigns scramble to buy air time in the final weeks before the election. Whether Mr. Baesler can keep up with Mr. Bunning has generally been viewed as a central issue.
Mr. Baesler's campaign manager, J.B. Poersch, said Mr. Baesler is in a better position now than the summaries of the campaigns' reports indicate, because he has spent little on TV this month, while Mr. Bunning spent about $700,000.
"The Bunning camp's early-October spending indicates that both candidates will have similar resources for the crucial last weeks," Mr. Poersch said.
He acknowledged that Mr. Bunning still has a clear edge, but said, "The fact that our campaign has out-raised the Bunning campaign since May suggests that our campaign has the momentum and the lead to carry through Election Day."
Mr. Bunning said in a news release: "I believe our strong fund-raising is indicative of the broad support my campaign has enjoyed. We are going to finish this campaign aggressively and have the necessary resources to carry us to victory on November third."
Mr. Bunning reported raising $862,862 in the three-month period, increasing his total for the year to $1.7 million.
Mr. Baesler raised $955,058 during the three-month period, which included a high-profile fund-raising visit in August by President Clinton.