By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer
FORT WRIGHT - Though their differences are stark, U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning will not debate his Democratic opponent - eastern Kentucky surgeon Dr. Daniel Mongiardo - before the November election.
Bunning's Fort Wright campaign office confirmed Wednesday the first-term senator and former U.S. House member has no plans to debate Mongiardo. He'll even pass on the statewide debate KET public television in Lexington had planned to produce.
Bunning's campaign had no official comment, referring instead to a statement Bunning made Saturday at the Fancy Farm political picnic in Graves County.
"Heavens no," Bunning was quoted as saying. "I have no plans to debate him."
Republican Party officials and members of Bunning's inner political circle have been angry at Mongiardo, his campaign and Democratic Party officials for suggesting that Bunning, a former Major League Baseball pitcher who turns 73 in October, is in poor health.
"Jim Bunning may be a Hall of Fame pitcher, but the truth is, there's not heat on his fastball," Mongiardo said during his Fancy Farm speech.
Bunning's campaign has denied the senator has any health problems.
Bunning's supporters were also miffed at what they said were overly aggressive campaign tactics Mongiardo's volunteers used at Fancy Farm.
At one point, Bunning tried to do an interview with a western Kentucky television station. But he walked away without completing it after Mongiardo supporters surrounded him and refused to leave.
Mongiardo called Bunning's refusal to debate "an unprecedented display of arrogance."
"Debates are as American as apple pie," Mongiardo, a state senator from Hazard, said. "The people of Kentucky deserve an honest, open debate on the issues.
"Sen. Bunning may run from his record, but he cannot hide from the people of Kentucky forever," Mongiardo said.
Bunning twice debated Democratic congressman Scotty Baesler in the 1998 Senate race.
But he did occasionally refuse to debate opponents during his six terms as a congressman representing Kentucky's 4th Congressional District.
Bunning and Mongiardo have already fleshed out many of their differences in campaign speeches, statements and past voting records on issues that include tax cuts, stem cell research, veterans' affairs, national defense and more.
Bunning, however, enjoys not only the power of incumbency but also a huge financial advantage. He's set a Kentucky record for fund-raising in a U.S. Senate race with almost $6 million and still has $4 million in the bank.
Mongiardo has less than $1 million.
The Associated Press contributed.
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