Still, the state's press found him rather stiff and forbidding. "He could be arrogant, short and nasty at times," says Bill Straub, Frankfort bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. "Covering him was something of a chore." On the other hand, here was Bunning, trying to convince people he was a serious candidate, while newspapers ran headlines like GOP GETS IN BALLGAME and EX-MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER GOES AFTER BIG WIN.
Bunning had a decision to make: Run for governor again in '87 or for Congress from the Fourth District, his home field, in '86. M. Gene Snyder, the Republican incumbent, was retiring after 11 terms, and Bunning was a natural for the district, which runs along the Ohio River from the suburbs of Cincinnati to the suburbs of Louisville and encompasses 12 counties. His Democratic opponent, Terry Mann, carried eight counties, but Bunning soundly defeated him in the two counties where more than two-thirds of the voters lived, and won by a 56%-44% margin. Although he tends to credit his staff for the victory, he was simply a much better campaigner this time around. "He underwent an interesting transformation between 1983 and this past election," says Straub. "He was charming throughout the campaign. He really loosened up. It was almost as if he went to candidate school."
So, Mr. Bunning went to Washington.
After his swearing-in, Bunning hurries back to his office. Room 1123 in the Longworth House Office Building, where a reception is being held for his staff and family and supporters. "Sitting there, listening to those speeches, I kept thinking of all the people who were waiting for me back here," he says. "But when the time came, I felt the chills. I remember Jay Rhodes telling us in orientation the story of how he took the oath of office when he was eight years old, standing beside his father. John Rhodes [then a Republican congressman from Arizona]. And today, there was Jay's own five-year-old son, standing in the aisle, taking the oath."
Off to one side, Mary is explaining to a hometown newspaperman the difference between this day and that Father's Day in 1964. "Maybe I got more excited at the perfect game," she says. "But this thrill was somehow deeper, more emotional. I really had tears in my eyes when he hugged Jay Rhodes."
Just then the voting bells go off. and Bunning excuses himself, saying, "My first real vote." Bunning goes jogging off across Constitution Avenue over to the Capitol. He's 20 years older, several pounds heavier and dressed in a gray business suit, but the old athletic stride is still there. He's trotting out to the mound now, to pitch against the Democrats.