Despite a modern selfie, old-time politics rules in biggest Fancy Farm ever

08/02/2014 07:10 PM

FANCY FARM – While this year’s political speaking at St. Jerome Parish began with a selfie, it quickly returned to its 19th century roots of zingers and criticism between the U.S. Senate candidates, their allies and a record-breaking crowd.

Both Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell acquitted themselves without making gaffes as they yelled over the evenly divided crowd of largely blue t-shirt wearing Grimes supporters and red-clad McConnell backers.

But it was the supporting cast who got in the memorable lines – and even a quick rule-bending gimmick by the governor.

Before Gov. Steve Beshear got into his speech – the first of the afternoon from officials and candidates – he excused himself from the podium to walk in front of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and use his iPhone to get a snapshot with his old nemesis from the 1996 election.

“I just wanted one last photo of the senator before Kentuckians retire him in November,” then Beshear told the crowd.

It wasn’t technically a prop, which is banned by the speaking event organizers. But it was close. And the political speaking was off from there punctuated by booming cheers and floods of boos from each side of record crowd of 5,000 spilling out the newly constructed speaker’s pavilion. It was a U.S. Senate race version of “Survivor” with rhetoric and one-liners as weapons.

Neither Grimes nor McConnnell strayed far from the major points they’ve been giving in their stump speeches.

McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul both coaxed refrains of “Obama needs Grimes” and “Kentucky needs McConnell” from their Republican chorus in the crowd.

McConnell also found a way to weave together his two favorite arguments against Grimes: that’s she’s inexperienced and she’s tied to President Barack Obama.

“By any standard Barack Obama has been a disaster for our country. If you think about it, that’s what you get for electing someone with no experience,” he said. “He was only two years in his first job before he started campaigning for the next one. Sound familiar?”

“… And every time he got in trouble and his inexperience became obvious, he called in Bill Clinton. Sound familiar?”

Both candidates picked on each other’s mistakes. For instance, McConnell seized on Grimes’ awkward statement last week that Israel’s Iron Dome defense system could guard against terrorist tunnels.

“She came up with her own plan to keep folks form streaming into our country – missile defense,” he said.

Grimes opened her remarks with a series of zingers highlighting past embarrassments for the McConnell campaign, including:

“The barbeque smells so good even Jesse Benton stopped holding his nose,” she said. “And Senator McConnell, with all this great barbeque, trust me, there’s no way I’m going to leave here today an empty dress.”

She then referenced another bizarre twist in the race when the campaigns argued over Twitter over the existence of a place in Harlan County referenced in one of Grimes’ ads, which the Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth detailed last month.

“It’s not easy being Mitch McConnell. He’s been in Washington, D.C., so long, he thinks Duke’s in Kentucky and Cloverlick’s not. But I’ve got good news for the folks in Cloverlick. If Mitch McConnell doesn’t know where your town is, it makes it harder for him to ship your jobs overseas,” she said.

But when it came to policy, neither McConnell nor Grimes offered any new insights.

Grimes, though, did reference the fact that even though they were sharing the same stage for the first time in the general election, their campaigns had yet to agree on when they both would face each other in a debate.

“Senator, I’ll be at the Kentucky Farm Bureau (forum) and the KET debate, Beattyville and Pikeville and you should too,” Grimes said.

Supporting cast

In his first return to Fancy Farm since his 2010 run, Paul played the role of dutiful wingman, devoting his remarks to the 2014 race. In fact, he began with a poem about Grimes featuring lines like:

“To liberals she whispered coal makes us sick; In Kentucky, she claimed, coal makes us tick.”

And: “One thing we know is guaranteed. She’d cast her first vote for Harry Reid.”

From the Democratic side, state Auditor Adam Edelen helped wrap up the political speaking event by noting the Republican U.S. Senators had left the building long ago.

“Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul listened politely to each other and then left together,” Edelen said. He nodded to the empty seats in the front row of the Republican section on the stage. “It kind of makes me wish Rand Paul were on the ballot this year so they can leave the Senate together.”

Even when the intensity waned, such as when state legislators and legislative candidates spoke before the U.S. Senate candidates, the crowd kept refocusing the attention on the big one.

“I see you Alison,” someone from the crowd yelled during one lull. Republicans booed. Democrats cheered.

State Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, stoked the fiery crowd by criticizing the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s administration.

“Back off EPA and let our coal miners go back to work,” Heath said. Republicans erupted. Democrats answered with boos.

The crowd

Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham, who emceed the speaking event, stressed the need for civility to the crowd, asking them to cheer when they liked a line and “when you don’t like it – boo. And then shut up and let them go on with their speech.”

More often then not, too many hecklers yelled at once cancelling each out, so it sounded like a louder but better-behaved crowd than past picnics.

But occasionally they got a couple licks in.

When Beshear mentioned how he has had to deal with a Republican-led state Senate and a Democratic-controlled House, he said, “We know how to make democracy work.”

“Prove it,” someone yelled from the Republican side of the pavilion.

And as McConnell pivoted from his opening lines to his critique of Obama, he said: “You know, Fancy Farm is fun, but there are serious problems confronting our country.”

“You,” several men on the Democratic side yelled.

But Cunningham didn’t just suggest civility to the crowd, he also urged the audience to imagine a time when McConnell and Grimes could come together sometime in the future. He recalled the late 1980s when former adversaries, retired Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper and ex-Democratic Senator and Gov. Happy Chandler, sat on the stage for their final Fancy Farm and “patted each other on the back with obvious affection.”

Cunningham suggested the crowd imagine older versions of Grimes and McConnell sitting on a future Fancy Farm stage patting each other on the back.

“When you get old, you see things with a different perspective,” Cunningham said.


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