Hillary Clinton takes brunt of GOP assault at Fancy Farm as Donald Trump gets few mentions from the stump

08/07/2016 10:47 PM

With most of the seats on the stage filled by Republicans, the name “Clinton” became akin to a four-letter word at Saturday’s Fancy Farm picnic as multiple speakers took turns bashing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, an unconventional candidate who has courted controversy across the country during his campaign but appears poised to capture the state’s eight electoral votes, was rarely the butt of jokes from Democrats.

Trump was also scarcely mentioned by most GOP speakers, who instead mostly focused much of their national attention on Clinton.

Even state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, other than urging the audience to support Trump, spent most of his Fancy Farm speech as Trump’s surrogate criticizing Clinton on a variety of fronts, from her handling of terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as secretary of state to her support of gun reforms and renewable energy.

Other than former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, of North Carolina, the sharpest elbows to Trump came from emcee Scott Jennings, a longtime GOP political operative and co-founder of RunSwitch PR.

In reference to Melania Trump’s widely panned speech at the Republican National Convention that lifted parts of a speech from first lady Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Jennings said “plagiarism in the political business is a big no-no.”

“So let me just say instead to start that on behalf my husband Barack and my daughters Sasha and Malia, it’s an honor to be here,” he said.

“I don’t want to talk too much about the Donald today because I’ve been told that every time someone tells a joke about Trump, an angel gets deported,” Jennings added later. “Oh, I misread that. That’s Angel gets deported.”

Of Clinton, Jennings said there are three primary causes for the migration of Democratic voters to the Republican ranks: “Hillary. Rodham. Clinton.”

“If she pulls this off though, I will tell you the only thing less safe than our national security information will be the White House interns,” Jennings said. “Look out. Slick Willie’s on the loose!”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is fighting to retain GOP control of the upper chamber in Congress, mentioned Trump once in his speech, urging Republican supporters to send the New York real estate mogul to the White House to ensure a conservative U.S. Supreme Court and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

McConnell, like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, spent some time trying to link Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Jim Gray with Clinton during his remarks.

Gray was the lone Democrat seeking or elected to statewide office to take the podium at Fancy Farm, the unofficial start to Kentucky’s campaign season. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes skipped the picnic to be with family.

“Jim, rather than campaign along Hillary in Kentucky, I think you’re better off joining the rest of your party in witness protection,” McConnell said. “… There’s a reason Democrats went from dominating Kentucky politics to being represented here by a couple of nobodies and a couple of no-shows. There’s a reason they had to import a North Carolinian to support Hillary Clinton.”

Paul, who didn’t mention Trump in his remarks before he was played off the state to NSync’s “Bye Bye Bye,” started his speech with a poem specifically about Clinton, with the first line, “How doth Hillary hate us, let me count the ways.”

“According to a new poll, Hillary has lost most of her support in Kentucky,” Paul said. “It seems to have gone because of her viewpoint on coal, but there’s still debate as to whether she lost these supporters or accidentally deleted them from her email.”

Trey Grayson, an ex-Republican secretary of state who now serves as CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and formerly as director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, said that Clinton’s vilification in far Western Kentucky wasn’t surprising given her negatives as a candidate.

Grayson said Democrats potentially missed an opportunity to tie local Republicans to Trump, although he said what little polling that’s been done in Kentucky indicates that Trump is ahead here.

“The big story is the battle for the state House, so is Donald Trump an asset or liability in those races, and in the extent that he’s any kind of a liability, yeah, you do miss out on an opportunity when you have Fancy Farm because of the press that covers it,” he said in a phone interview with Pure Politics on Sunday.

“It becomes an earned media opportunity unlike any other in Kentucky. Now I’m not sure how Trump plays in those swing areas, but Fancy Farm is one of the unique opportunities you have in Kentucky politics to generate a lot of earned media to communicate a message. You miss out if you have silence.”

But Democratic political consultant Matt Erwin disagreed, saying the event only captures the state’s news cycle for a few days before subsiding.

“Unless a candidate makes a horrendous error, the entire event just sort of fizzles out,” Erwin said in a phone interview with Pure Politics on Sunday. “Nobody struck a fatal blow. Nobody made a fatal mistake.”

Erwin said with the fate of the state House at stake this election cycle, he expects Republicans running in districts with major cities to keep the boisterous GOP nominee at arm’s length.

“Look at a candidate like Denny Butler who’s in a Democratic district that’s trending more and more Democrat every election cycle,” Erwin said. “He would be wise to distance himself from (Trump) as much as possible.”

Although the Clinton campaign’s selection of Hagan was a likely signal that they didn’t want to concede the Fancy Farm stage, Grayson said he was pleasantly surprised to see Republicans armed with signs for Thom Tillis, the Republican who topped Hagan in the 2014 election.

“As a Fancy Farm observer, I thought that was really creative and funny,” Grayson said. “Hey, welcome to Kentucky. We’re not going to hold up Trump signs. We’re not going to hold up anti-Hillary signs. We’re going to hold up the guy who beat you. Welcome to Fancy Farm.”

Hagan also twice misstated the name Fancy Farm and referred to Gov. Matt Bevin as Mark Bevin, something that Grayson and Erwin attributed to the novelty of the Fancy Farm environment.

Although he has been unpredictable on the trail, Trump has recently shown signs of acquiescing some to Republicans. This week, the GOP nominee endorsed House Speaker Paul Ryan, Arizona Sen. John McCain and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte after declining to do so earlier.

McConnell and Paul, speaking to reporters at the Graves County Republican breakfast before Fancy Farm, said they were pleased to see Trump back those Republicans.

Paul said Trump’s endorsements signal that the Republican Party is unifying ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

“He’s going to hopefully hone in on the target, and the target is Hillary Clinton,” Paul said.

McConnell, who says he speaks with the GOP nominee “off and on,” called Trump’s endorsements “the right thing to do.”

“We need to be unifying the party and going after Hillary Clinton, and I think the more he can talk about Clinton and her record and make the point that she represents four more years just like the last eight, the better off he and all of us will be,” McConnell said after signing copies of his memoir for supporters at Graves County High School Saturday morning.

“I think it’s important for Donald Trump to be doing this, and I think he’s figured that out and we’re happy to see it,” he added.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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