Fancy Farm Was Fancier, Tamer as Senate, Governor Candidates Trade Jabs
The good folks at St. Jerome Parish must have known that the stage was set for a record-breaking crowd at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic. They set a new stage of their own - a true front porch upon which candidates would sell their ideas and float thinly veiled insults or outright cheap shots at their opponents.
But in the context of the white railing and the red brick, the calmness of your grandmother's front porch, the typically outlandish and fiery speeches were somewhat muted this year -- and that was a welcome characterization by organizers and emcee Chief Justice William Cunningham who implored participants and the crowd to behave.
Even the crowd mostly obliged, in spite of the fact that this year's political theater event in the tiny town of Fancy Farm features the two candidates of one of the most closely watched races in the country, a pit full of national and international media, and two young candidates staking their early claims to the governor's mansion in 2015.
That's not to say this was a love fest, by any means.
There was red meat thrown at both the red and blue sides of the record-breaking crowd. And there were jokes. And there was weirdness.
There was barbecue pork and mutton, games, and bingo. There were 20,000 people, 5,000 of which huddled around a small shelter to watch the speeches.
There was Fancy Farm.
Governor Steve Beshear took to the stage first -- he's a pro at these stump speeches, and has recently become somewhat familiar to his social media audience for his appreciation of a good "selfie". He snapped one during a visit to Covington where he signed the angel investor individual tax credit bill at UpTech, and on Saturday he snapped another one, making sure that Senator Mitch McConnell was in the background.
"I had to get one more photo of the Kentucky senator before voters retire him in November," Beshear told the crowd, half of which erupted in cheers. "And retire him they will! Because Kentuckians are tired of the petty bickering in Washington, DC!"
Beshear's selfie with McConnell/KY Democratic Party
Beshear rattled off a list of accomplishments he achieved as governor through a divided legislature, praising Republicans in the state senate and blasting the ones in the House. He implored voters not to give the House to the GOP. "They will try to run the state just like Mitch McConnell tries to run Washington," Beshear said.
State Senator Stan Humphries, a Republican, argued on behalf of McConnell and set the tone for what McConnell's argument is: President Barack Obama is not liked in Kentucky, so let's attach him to Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes who polls show is within the margin of error and could defeat the five-term senate minority leader. "We need a seasoned veteran reelected to be majority leader to fight Obama, (Senator Harry) Reid, and (Rep. Nancy) Pelosi," Humphries shouted.
Congressman Ed Whitfield said the same thing: Obama, Obama, Obama. Fortunately for him, what he lacks in creative arguments for his own candidacy, he makes up for by not having serious competition. The Republican is being challenged by Democrat Charles Hatchett who told a meandering tale about George Washington and ended his rambling with this warning: "God hates a liar".
And then, the main event: Grimes and McConnell.
"What a huge crowd for Senator McConnell's retirement party," Grimes said as she took to the podium. She stated her familiar refrain about being insulted by being referred to as an empty dress but did offer one of the best lines of the day: "If Mitch McConnell were a TV show, he'd be Mad Men: Treating women unfairly, stuck in 1968, and ending this season!"
She also said that 35 was her age and McConnell's approval rating. McConnell mostly talked about Obama, but used a clever refrain with his supporters that "Obama needs Grimes, Kentucky needs McConnell".
Senator Rand Paul has also improved significantly since his first appearance at Fancy Farm. He recited a poem about Grimes that fired up the crowd, and ended with a question about whether voters want an Obama supporter to represent them in the Senate.
Attorney General Jack Conway, who will seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2015, talked up Grimes and his own campaign. He called McConnell a do-nothing senator.
He also got another challenger on the Republican side.
Joining Louisville businessman Hal Heiner in the GOP nomination race, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced his candidacy. He did not recognize his running mate, but The River City News has been the only media outlet to report that it would be Kenton County State Senator Chris McDaniel.
Comer also had one of the day's best lines, a reference to a previous Conway Fancy Farm appearance in which the Democrat invited his critics to chew on his hide. "That is not a Kentucky Proud product," Comer said.
State Auditor Adam Edelen and Tresurer Todd Hollenbach closed the speech session with support for Grimes. McConnell and Paul left together before Conway took the stage. "It makes you wish they were on the ballot this year so they could both leave the Senate together," Edelen said.
Paul may be a presidential candidate in 2016 which could open up his seat in the senate that year. Edelen could be a candidate.
And when that ballot is made, you can be sure that the candidates will return to the newly constructed front porch of Kentucky politics, Fancy Farm.
Story & photos by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News