July 28, 2009 / 11:24 AM / 10 years ago

Republican Senator Bunning announces retirement

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, a former professional baseball star and leading critic of the Federal Reserve Board, announced on Monday he would not seek re-election to his Kentucky seat next year.

Senator Jim Bunning on Capitol Hill in a file photo. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Some of Bunning’s fellow Republicans had been encouraging him to retire to avoid a tough race and possible defeat. Some party strategists believed a different candidate would have a better chance of winning.

“Over the past year, some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fund-raising,” Bunning, 72, said in a statement. “The simple fact is that I have not raised the funds necessary to run an effective campaign for the U.S. Senate.”

The news was likely to be seen as a boost to Republicans who have been reduced to 40 members in the 100-seat Senate and are looking to the 2010 mid-term elections to recoup some of their strength.

As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Bunning was known for grilling Fed officials testifying before the panel.

In April, the conservative Republican joined forces with more liberal senators in winning Senate passage of a measure calling on the Federal Reserve to disclose names of institutions that receive emergency loans. The legislation also pushed for a study to determine the “appropriate” number of regional Fed banks.

The nonbinding legislation represented an unusual political challenge to the central bank. Bunning was also an outspoken critic of U.S. government bailouts of financial firms.

Bunning said that for the remainder of his term, he will continue opposing Democratic policies, which he said “will put this country on the path to socialism” if enacted.

A Republican source said Trey Grayson, currently Kentucky’s secretary of state, was a likely Republican candidate.

Before serving in the Senate, Bunning was a member of the House of Representatives for 12 years.

Bunning had an illustrious sporting career and was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. In 17 years playing mostly for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, he was only the second pitcher in history to get 1,000 strikeouts and 100 wins in both the American and National leagues.

He also threw rare no-hitters in both leagues, one of only five players to accomplish this feat.

Bunning won a second term in the Senate in 2004 with only 51 percent of the vote, despite facing an opponent with a significantly smaller campaign war chest.

That campaign was marked by some eccentric behavior. He refused to appear in person at a debate and also reportedly described his opponent, Daniel Mongiardo, as looking like “one of Saddam Hussein’s sons.”

Additional reporting by Steve Holland, editing by Alan Elsner

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