Sen. Bunning endorses Rand Paul over his own 'protege'

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) is leaving the Senate, but he's not going quietly.

Bunning on Wednesday announced that he will support Rand Paul in the GOP primary to take his seat. The move will be seen as a direct affront to the state's other senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and the GOP candidate he is more closely tied to, Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

“Kentucky needs a conservative who will say no to bailouts, stop the government takeover of our economy, end wasteful spending, and bring down our national debt," Bunning said. "And Kentucky’s families need a conservative who believes in traditional values and the rights of the unborn. In 2010, there is only one such conservative running for the United States Senate -- Dr. Rand Paul."

Paul has led in the polls and been step-for-step with Grayson on the fundraising front, but he has yet to draw much in the way of establishment support in the race.

Bunning publicly feuded with GOP leadership last year, as McConnell and others waged a campaign to get him to retire in the face of a difficult reelection bid.

The endorsement is also interesting because Grayson has been referred to as Bunning's political protege. And when Grayson got in the race before Bunning's retirement announcement, he said that he had Bunning's blessing to launch a campaign.

The primary is May 18.