LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Senate race in Kentucky stayed at fever pitch on Thursday as Democratic challenger Daniel Mongiardo (search) stressed his opposition to gay marriage while accusing Republican incumbent Jim Bunning (search) of fueling personal attacks that seemed to suggest Mongiardo is gay.
In a Rotary club speech, Mongiardo talked about his Christian upbringing and accused Bunning and his "henchmen" of spreading "outrageous lies" about him. He said Bunning "needs to get his campaign and himself under control."
"These are the despicable attacks of a desperate senator who is dangerously out of touch with reality," Mongiardo said.
Bunning surrogate David Williams, the Kentucky Senate president, in recent days referred to Mongiardo, a 44-year-old bachelor, as a "limp wrist."
Williams has said he intended no sexual connotation, but was speaking in sports parlance by saying that Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher, is still capable of "throwing that hard pitch from the mound."
Another Republican state senator, Elizabeth Tori, declared Wednesday that Mongiardo "is not a gentleman," and then added of her Senate colleague, "I'm not even sure the word `man' applies to him."
After Mongiardo's Rotary speech, a reporter asked Mongiardo if he is gay.
He replied, "No," and later quipped, "I'm hoping all this attention will get me a couple of dates."
Bunning, who is seeking a second term, was present for the comments by Williams and Tori. He didn't respond when asked Thursday whether he condoned the comments.
Bunning, 73, enjoys a big lead in campaign fund-raising and name recognition, but his once-commanding advantage in polls has eroded amid a series of gaffes.
Bunning compared Mongiardo's appearance to one of Saddam Hussein's sons. Then he made an unsubstantiated claim that opposition staffers beat his wife "black and blue" at a political picnic. Most recently, he said he wasn't aware that Army reservists had refused a convoy mission in Iraq, saying he hadn't read a newspaper in six weeks.
Bunning accused Mongiardo of spreading lies questioning his mental capacity for the job.
In his speech, Mongiardo said supports a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He co-sponsored a similar measure on Tuesday's ballot that would add a gay-marriage ban to Kentucky's Constitution.