Analysts predict sharp elbows in fight for earned media at Fancy Farm

07/29/2015 10:56 PM

With rhetoric heating up between gubernatorial candidates Kentuckians can expect one-liners sprinkled with vitriol at Fancy Farm, but Matt Bevin and Jack Conway will also be competing for air time and column inches in what has so far been a sleepy open-seat general election.

“Last year when we all went to Fancy Farm to me it felt like … we were coming out for the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. This year it feels more like the kickoff — or maybe even the coin flip,” said Scott Jennings a GOP strategist.

Some have called the raucous speaking event outdated, but for Jennings the tradition has a solid footing in the commonwealth’s political arena.

“This is an unusual, interesting and necessary test in a world where campaigns and candidacies are often very sanitized,” Jennings said.

Even though Bevin and Conway have shared a stage three times before and this is Bevin’s second campaign, his challenge will be moving his messaging across party lines, Jennings said.

“This opportunity this weekend is for him to start to talk about a message that will appeal to that broader general election voter,” he said.

The candidates will get their one-liners and policy quips in a “colorful way,” but Jennings warns of the danger of getting caught up in the partisan atmosphere and missing the chance for the state’s media to carry his broader message.

“So far the Bevin campaign hasn’t run any television advertising for the fall Election, I’m sure they will, but they haven’t so far, and so this is going to be one of the biggest earned media opportunities he’s had to talk to the population at large,” he said.

Watch Jennings’ full discussion on the 135th annual event benefiting St. Jerome Catholic Church including what he expects from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, and how U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s plans to be out-of-state could impact his run for re-election next year.

Former Kentucky Democratic Party spokesman Matt Erwin said he expects a “fair amount of aggression” from both sides come Saturday, but he too warned of the potential pitfalls.

“Campaigns the best thing they can get out of Fancy Farm is to walk out of there not bleeding. It needs to be an event where you don’t come out with a wound,” Erwin said. “You can go on there and throw your jabs and if you leave without making a mistake in my opinion that’s a win.”

Conway knows first-hand the challenges of the Fancy Farm speaking circuit. In 2009 he found himself in hot water when he told the Fancy Farm crowd, “I’ve been around a while and you’re looking at one tough son-of-a-bitch.”

Erwin didn’t expect a repeat of that moment, but said Bevin and Conway are already throwing punches and expects more of the same from the stage on Saturday.

Watch Erwin’s full comments which includes some discussion of the down ballot candidates.


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