Some Democrats point to Fancy Farm emcee as reason for no-shows while Jim Gray says he's ready for "more time in the spotlight"

08/06/2016 12:30 AM

GILBERTSVILLE — Lexington Mayor Jim Gray may be the only statewide Democrat on the Fancy Farm stage on Saturday when he makes his first speech at the raucous event, but the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate says he’s ready to embrace the attention he’ll receive at Kentucky’s premiere political event.

“I’ll enjoy more time in the spotlight,” Gray said before entering the Mike Miller Democratic Bean Supper at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park.

Attorney General Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes are the state’s lone Democrats in constitutional offices who have cited familial conflicts in their decisions to skip this year’s picnic.

But that hasn’t stopped some Democrats from opining that the selection of Scott Jennings, a Republican political operative who has run super PACs supporting GOP candidates, caused Beshear and Grimes to steer clear of the annual event.

In fact, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he advised Gray to follow Beshear’s and Grimes’ examples and find something other than Fancy Farm to do on Saturday. Stumbo said he’s not attending the event partly out of protest and partly because his daughter-in-law is expected to give birth this weekend.

“When you pick someone like Scott Jennings, who is a paid political consultant for the Republican Party, that goes way beyond the issue of fairness for the emcee, and I don’t think the Democrats should go down there as a protest vote,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

“If they want to have a Republican rally, let ‘em have a Republican rally. We’ll have a Democratic rally. The spirit of the picnic was that we engage in fair and free debate.”

Former Gov. Paul Patton said he’s not terribly concerned with Grimes’ and Beshear’s decisions against attending this year’s picnic since they’re not on the ballot, adding that Gray should relish the extra attention he’ll receive on the Fancy Farm stage.

“It’ll give him an opportunity, a better opportunity to get his message out without competing with other prominent politicians that would obviously if they were there, they would deserve some coverage,” he said.

Patton also touched on Jennings’ partisan history and the squeamishness Democrats might feel with him as master of ceremonies. The ex-governor said he thought last year’s emcee, Kentucky Sports Radio host and self-described progressive Democrat Matt Jones, “was a little bit too Democratic.”

“He tried to do it in a humorous way, but frankly I thought it was a little unfair to the Republicans last year,” Patton said. “… And this one will probably be much more unfair to the Democrats.”

State Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, said Democrats need a strong presence on the Fancy Farm stage, but like others, he pointed to Jennings as potentially problematic from some of his fellow Democrats.

“One today made the remark that when they decided to make it a Republican pep rally, I decided not to go,” he said. “So I think that’s the reason why.”

Beshear, who said he will be seeing his daughter and son perform in their first play on Saturday, dismissed Jennings’ impact as emcee on his decision to skip this year’s Fancy Farm, saying the two have known each other since they were 17 “and have kept a relationship up ever since.”

“I like Fancy Farm,” Beshear said before entering the bean supper. “It’s a good place, but in the end those two kids, my two kids come first.”

Gray offered few clues to his Fancy Farm speech when speaking to Pure Politics, and he seemed to keep his cards close to his vest in remarks to some 175 at the Democratic bean supper.

The Democratic nominee offered a more standard stump speech rather than the jokes and one-liners that are typically rehearsed to friendly partisan crowds before the picnic.

“Mitch McConnell had $22 million in that race he ran against Alison two years ago,” Gray said. “… Today, Rand Paul has just a little over $2 million, so this is a very different race today. Not only can we win this race, but with your help, we are going to win this race.”

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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