Thursday, April 15, 2004

Talkative Bunning stirs up the gators

Around Northern Kentucky

Pat Crowley

I feel Jim Bunning's pain.

He spent last week besieged by reporters after fellow Republicans confirmed a tasteless joke he told about his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Dan Mongiardo.

I was surrounded by alligators in a Florida river after being abandoned by my "friends."

Two weeks ago when I loaded the minivan with family and luggage and headed for Siesta Key - where the motto is "Everybody here has more money than you" - I thought the "Bunning says Mongiardo looks like Saddam's kids" was a one-day story, two at the most.

Who knew the controversy had longer legs than Yao Ming.

So while my 11-year-old son, Conor, and I were unsuccessfully trying to maneuver a canoe through the alligator-infested waters of Florida's Myakka River, Bunning and his U.S. Senate re-election campaign were navigating through a weeklong barrage of negative press.

Poor Conor yelled in fear when I did my best impression of the Exxon Valdez captain and crashed the canoe, flipping us into the unfriendly waters.

Bunning's folks surely cringed at the headlines screaming "Bunning talks - with foot in mouth" (Louisville Courier-Journal); "Hussein joke bombs" (Washington Post); and "Bunning offensive" (Lexington Herald-Leader.)

So odious was Bunning's alleged joke about Mongiardo that plenty of Republicans who heard the crack at last month's Fourth District Lincoln Day Dinner were willing to talk about it as long as their names weren't used.

But I'm naming names of my fellow canoers - Scott Hiance, Mark Gold, Mike Crawford, Milt Horner and Jim Laber - who paddled their sons to safety while Conor and I tried to make our canoe go forward. Thanks guys. Next year I'm staying on the beach.

What's the moral here?

Bunning is a tough opponent to beat - as long as he watches what he says.

He has been ranked as one of the most conservative members of the Senate, where he represents a state that loves conservatives.

His name is gold, from his 18 years in Washington - 12 in the House and six in the Senate - and from his days as a Hall of Fame baseball player. He has a great wife, a wonderful family, a campaign war chest of more than $3 million and a loyal, experienced and top-notch campaign team.

But he gives opponents plenty of fodder with his mouth.

Just a few weeks ago Bunning courted controversy when he appeared to favor Northern Kentucky over Louisville in getting federal money for new Ohio River bridges. After denying he made such comments he was confronted with the evidence of a tape recording and TV interview of what he said.

Once again, he got into trouble for speaking before thinking.

I get into trouble when it comes to canoes and alligators. Those, I can avoid. Bunning still has a long campaign to go.


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