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Inside Politics

Bunning almost watches lead disappear

Race for U.S. Senate in Kentucky

(CNN) -- Republican Jim Bunning almost watched an insurmountable lead disappear against Dr. Daniel Mongiardo, his Democratic challenger.

On September 20, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported its poll showed Bunning, 73, with a 17-point lead. But the one-term senator made several miscues in the final months and also had to deny rumors that his mental health was deteriorating.

By late October, the same poll showed Mongiardo was trailing by only six points.

Bunning said he was joking when early on in the campaign he said Mongiardo looked like one of Saddam Hussein's sons. The senator apologized during a debate, which he took part in from a Washington studio instead of appearing in person.

Bunning also claimed that at a picnic in August, his wife was manhandled by workers from his opponent's camp. Just a few weeks ago, when asked about a Guard unit in Iraq that had refused orders, Bunning said he hadn't read any newspapers in six weeks.

One of the senator's fellow republicans, state senate president David Williams said that while Bunning could still throw "that hard pitch from the mound, and his opponent is a swith-hitter who doesn't know whether he's on left or right." Williams referred to Mongiardo as limp-wristed at another campaign stop.

Mongiardo, who is single, called the comments "character assassination."

Williams later insisted that the references were sports-related.

Bunning was a Hall of Fame baseball player after he graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. In his political career, the former stock broker served two years on the Fort Thomas city council, four years in the state senate and 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected to the Senate in 1998 by 6,766 votes.

Bunning made much of his penchant to vote in line with the Bush administration.

Mongiardo, 44, is the grandson of Italian immigrants. He grew up in Hazard, in southeastern Kentucky, and went to Transylvania University in Lexington. He stayed in town to go to medical school at the University of Kentucky and did his residency in the city. In 2000 he ran for and was elected to the state senate. He was re-elected to a redrawn district in 2002.

He made health care his top priority in the campaign, saying that he would work to reduce the price of prescription drugs and provide more health care coverage through government programs and tax breaks for small businesses.

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