Bunning ekes out win against Baesler
Candidates entered election in a dead heat
(AllPolitics, November 3) -- Republican Congressman Jim Bunning hit a ninth-inning political homer to win a hotly contested Senate race against Democratic U.S. Rep. Scotty Baesler.
Bunning and Baesler were neck and neck throughout the night Tuesday. Polls in Kentucky closed at 6 p.m. EDT, and CNN finally called Bunning's victory shortly before 11 p.m. EDT.
Bunning, a 66-year-old baseball Hall of Famer, and Baesler, the 56-year-old former captain of the University of Kentucky basketball team, were in a statistical dead heat going into Tuesday's face-off. But Bunning managed to capitalize on the Republican wave that has swept the Bluegrass State in recent years, and shut the Democrats out of Kentucky's delegation to the Senate.
Baesler was outspent, heavily. But a three-day train tour in late September drew lots of news coverage and only cost the equivalent of one day of TV ads.
"We're getting ready to whip the Republicans," he told supporters at the time. "It's time to whip them."
Both candidates ran many TV ads, battling over Social Security. Democrats started the fight. One Party ad that attacked Bunning advised, "Call Congressman Bunning. Tell him to stop playing politics and start putting seniors first. "
Social Security was a big issue, because elderly voters are a major factor in Kentucky. Bunning, chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, eventually took the offense, an odd twist for a Republican. But both candidates were fiscal conservatives.
Bunning was winning on TV -- big. From August through September Bunning's ads ran 868 times in the three TV markets that CNN checked, compared to Baesler's 435. There were also 1,580 Republican Party ads for Bunning and 475 Democratic Party ads, according to CNN's consultant, Competitive Media Reporting.
But one Bunning ad created quite a stir with Democrats and the media. It used unflattering footage of Baesler in a way that some critics complained sought to portray Baesler as Hitler.
The six-term GOP representative was also looking at a state that was trending Republican. Not long ago, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 4 to 2 in Kentucky's six-member House delegation. Now it's a 5-to-1 Republican advantage.
Bunning easily defeated state Sen. Barry Metcalf by a nearly 3-to-1 margin to capture his party's nomination.
Baesler's primary contest marked the most expensive race in the state's history, as Louisville cable industry multimillionaire Charlie Owen spent more than $6 million of his own money, much of it on TV ads. The three-term congressman defeated both Owen and Lt. Gov. Steve Henry.
The open Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Wendell Ford had been held by the Democrats since 1974.
Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg and CNN's John King and Brooks Jackson contributed to this report.
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