All sports have their seasons of play and politics is no different. Today the preseason concludes for the mid-term U.S. Senate race in Kentucky, as the 134th annual St. Jerome Parish Catholic Picnic, better known as Fancy Farm, offers up its unique brand of barnstorm politics, guaranteed to fill the air with cheers, jeers and boos a plenty.
The event is known for its barbecue lunch with all the trimmings, fun atmosphere, and most of all for the political stump speaking that attracts Kentucky’s elected officials and candidates. Don’t look for major policy speeches, or deep substance – this is red meat partisan jabs delivered from a hot microphone to hungry loyalists waiting to lap it up and give opponents some rough business.
The race between Republican incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democrat Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has been simmering since last summer – Fancy Farm should provide the kindling to bring it to a boil from now until Election Day.
A contentious atmosphere is already in the air, as McConnell seeks to paint Grimes as Obama’s candidate, and Grimes goes after the Senate Minority Leader’s recent claim that it’s not his job to find work for unemployed Kentuckians.
McConnell continues to appear vulnerable to attack, as 43 percent of those surveyed in a recent Bluegrass Poll viewed him unfavorably. After six years of leading the Republican strategy of partisan gridlock in Washington, many political observers are wondering aloud if McConnell has finally lost a step. He doesn’t appear to have the same zest or blood in the water ferocity his campaigns usually possess, especially when challenged like how Grimes is taking him to task.
Watch for McConnell to try to dispel any rumored staleness by feeding his faithful exactly what they seek. He is a veteran of the Fancy Farm atmosphere, and knows to keep it light. It’s better to leave this crowd laughing if possible and let the newspapers do the heavy lifting. Grimes meanwhile needs to make a strong showing as undecided voters start to give her a look.
A record crowd is expected as the Grimes/McConnell race is the hottest contest in the nation. Located in far western Kentucky, in the “Jackson Purchase” region, Fancy Farm usually draws near 10,000 folks, but organizers are expecting 15,000 to 20,000.
Also on the speaking menu today will be term-limited Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who will no doubt be singing the praises of the Affordable Care Act and how well Kentucky’s version, kynect, has done with its over 400,000 enrollees. In the green room waiting to run for governor next year is Democrat Jack Conway, Kentucky’s current attorney general, and likely opposing him is Agriculture Secretary James Comer on the Republican side.
The other big speech of the day will come from Kentucky’s junior Senator Rand Paul. Fancy Farm may be his official jump into the 2016 GOP Presidential primary.
Mark Wilson, chairman of Fancy Farm’s political committee, is hoping some semblance of decorum is maintained by the crowds as the political speeches commence. He has noticed more recently a steady increase of choreographed “scream fests” staged by fans from both parties.
“We understand there may be some boos here and there,” said Wilson. “They might jump up and down with some standing ovations, but the constant screaming is what we’re trying to curtail.”
With this much action on tap, there is tons of national media on the scene in Graves County including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Politico. C-SPAN, and KET will be providing coverage of the political speeches that begin at 2PM CT. It’s also being shown online at KET.org/live.