Jim Bunning: The Underperformer

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Before he entered politics, Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning was an outstanding baseball pitcher who was inducted into the Hall of Fame. But so far the burly right-hander has struck out in his seven years in the Senate.
In addition to being hostile to staff members on the Hill and occasionally even other Senators, Bunning shows little interest in policy unless it involves baseball, according to congressional experts and colleagues. When asked, they struggle to recall any legislation Bunning has worked on, although he did join Arizona Senator John McCain last spring in demanding tougher punishments for steroid use in professional sports. Congressional observers consider Bunning, 74, a disappointment also because his sharp questioning of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on fiscal matters during hearings over the past couple of years suggest he has the smarts to be an effective Senator but doesn't put in the effort.

Bunning's lackluster performance has created strains between him and the G.O.P. in Kentucky, according to Laurie Rhodebeck, a University of Louisville political-science professor. Having served Kentucky for 12 years in the House before moving to the Senate in 1998, Bunning exhibited bizarre behavior during his 2004 re-election campaign. He said his Democratic opponent, a child of Italian immigrants, looked like one of Saddam Hussein's sons. He refused to go to Kentucky for the campaign's only debate and took part instead from Washington. It was later revealed that he had read some of his answers in the debate from a teleprompter. He was returned to office by just two points in a state that President Bush carried by 20.