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Republican Squeaks into Ky. Senate

November 4, 1998 GMT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Republican Jim Bunning beat out Democrat Scotty Baesler in a photo finish in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race Tuesday.

With 1.1 million votes cast and 99 percent of precincts reporting, Bunning was ahead of Baesler by fewer than 4,000 votes _ 560,566 or 50 percent to 556,687 or 49 percent.

``It’s great to have a landslide victory,″ Bunning jokingly told a cheering crowd in declaring victory.

Both candidates gave up safe U.S. House seats to pursue the spot being vacated by Senate Minority Whip Wendell Ford, who is retiring.

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Ford, a formidable stump speaker in more than 30 years of state and federal politics, endorsed Baesler and campaigned at his side.

Baesler and Bunning both were big-time athletes. Bunning won 224 games as a major league pitcher and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996. Baesler played basketball at the University of Kentucky and was captain of the 1962-63 team.

Bunning emphasized his chairmanship of a House subcommittee on Social Security, trying to steal some thunder on an issue Democrats had hoped to exploit. But an exit poll by the Voter News Service for The Associated Press and five television networks indicated people who had fears about Social Security, particularly those over age 50, were mainly voting for Baesler.

Bunning repeatedly pounded on Baesler’s vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement and blamed NAFTA for job losses in Kentucky’s apparel and kitchen appliance industries.

Baesler, a tobacco and cattle farmer, presented himself as a moderate and said Bunning was too conservative for average Kentuckians.

He criticized Bunning’s flirtation with a national sales tax or a flat income tax as alternatives to the current tax system.

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