WHEN THE SENATE GOP PUSHES FOR A RETIREMENT…. With several Senate Republicans recently announcing their retirement, the GOP leadership would presumably encourage all of their remaining incumbents to seek re-election. Apparently, however, there is an exception.

One of the more fascinating campaigns in recent years was Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R) re-election fight in Kentucky in 2004. While political observers routinely joke about politicians who are “crazy” or have “lost it,” Bunning was one of those rare candidates who actually, literally, seemed to be suffering the effects of dementia. He would fail to show up for campaign events, he skipped a debate he agreed to participate in, and he lied about using a teleprompter in a different debate in which he wasn’t supposed to use one. He insisted on traveling with a special police escort, at taxpayer expense, for fear of a terrorist attack.

When local journalists asked that he release his medical records, Bunning refused. As the campaign wore on, Bunning was unaware of current events, and bragged about not watching or reading the news. He won on Election Day with 51% of the vote.

Four years later, Kentucky Republicans and the NRSC are looking ahead to the 2010 cycle. A growing number of Republicans would love to see Bunning quietly go away.

Some Republicans are privately urging Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) to step down at the end of his term amid growing concerns that he can’t win reelection in 2010.

According to two GOP sources, leading Republican fundraisers in Kentucky are hesitant to raise money for Bunning and have told him he should not seek a third term.

“They want him to realize he’s had a good run but that it’s time to move on. These people want to win, and they realize he could easily lose this seat,” said one leading Kentucky Republican operative who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

While national campaign officials usually urge their incumbents to remain in office — recognizing it’s tougher to defend an open seat — even leading Republicans seem unconvinced Bunning can win reelection.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn was recently asked if Bunning was the best candidate to run in Kentucky. He replied, “I don’t know.”

Expect the pressure on Bunning to retire to get pretty intense. Republicans are already in a state of semi-panic over 2010.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.