From NBC's Mark Murray
It looks like it's Kentucky Republican versus Kentucky Republican. In a conference call with reporters today, Sen. Jim Bunning lobbed a verbal grenade in Sen. Mitch McConnell's direction, per the Louisville Courier-Journal.
"Do you realize that under our dynamic leadership of our leader, we have gone from 55 and probably to 40 (Senate seats) in two election cycles? And if the tea leaves that I read are correct, we will wind up with about 36 after this election cycle," Bunning said. "So if leadership means anything, it means you don't lose … approximately 19 seats in three election cycles with good leadership."
The source of the friction between the two Kentucky senators is over what Bunning perceives as McConnell's desire for Bunning not to run for re-election in 2010. "Do you know Arlen Specter will be 80, has had four bouts with cancer and he still wants to run for the U.S. Senate?" Bunning said, per the Courier-Journal. "And I'm being criticized at 77 and healthy for wanting to run for the U.S. Senate by certain leadership people in my party. Give me a break."
Asked if he was referring to McConnell, Bunning replied: "Obviously. Do you want me to spell it out for you?"
There is speculation that Bunning might bow out with the news that Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson has formed an exploratory committee to run for the Senate. But Bunning hasn't made an official announcement, although he said he encouraged Grayson to set up the committee.
*** UPDATE *** McConnell's office wouldn't comment on Bunning's remarks. But Frank Donatelli, chairman of GOPAC, tells First Read that the Republican Party is "very lucky" to have McConnell as their Senate leader. "He's as good of a leader as we could expect in these difficult times for our party."
Donatelli, who says his opinion is shared by much of the GOP political establishment, adds that McConnell shouldn't be blamed for the party's losses in '06 and '08. "There is lots of blame to go around, but I don't think that Mitch's leadership is to blame."
One other thing: While McConnell was the No. 2 Senate Republican in the 2006 cycle, he didn't assume the top position until 2007.