The 133rd Fancy Farm Picnic was held this past weekend in Graves County. Up until just a few weeks ago, many would have expected an off-year for the political event. But with high profile entrances into the 2014 U.S. Senate race, it can perhaps be said now there are no “off-years” at Fancy Farm.
Under the massive bingo tent at the Fancy Farm Picnic, a victory is clear-cut. The first person to mark off five numbers in a sequence yells out “Bingo!” and is declared the winner. In the political arena just a few feet away, a win is far more difficult to call. In fact, the hysteria under the metal pavilion can become downright confusing. The cacophony of the evenly split Republican and Democrat throng swirls together to a point where you can’t tell who is lustily denouncing what.
But then, like all other major prize fights, the National Anthem unites all in attendance for a brief moment. Then everyone settles in to watch and jeer as the political combatants tear each other apart.
This year’s main event, and next year's: the 2014 U.S. Senate Race.
Enter incumbent Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.
“But look, you know, before I get started, I want to say how nice it is, how nice it is, to see [former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman] Jerry Lundergan back in the game," McConnell said early in his speech. "Like the loyal Democrat he is, he’s taking orders from the Obama campaign on how to run his daughter’s campaign.”
That was the closest McConnell came to directly acknowledging presumptive Democratic challenger Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Senate Minority Leader McConnell then pivoted to highlight his chance to be Senate Majority Leader if the Senate changes hands.
“We’ve obviously got some big elections coming up," McConnell said. "But we’re not just choosing who’s going to represent Kentucky in the Senate. We’re deciding who’s going to run the Senate."
Grimes took to the podium with her grandmother by her side, and lobbed her first attack, using some colorful rhetoric in calling the five-term senator an obstructionist.
"Let's just tell it like it is," Grimes said. "If the doctors told Sen. McConnell that he had a kidney stone, he'd refuse to pass it."
The rest of Grimes message attacked the political machine that she says McConnell has been a part of for too long.
“The truth is there’s a reason that Sen. McConnell is disliked by not only the voters of Kentucky, but by the entire United States," Grimes said. "And that’s because there’s a disease of dysfunction in Washington D.C. And after 30 years, Senator McConnell is at the center of it.”
Following her speech, while the crowd was still cheering and jeering, Grimes walked over and shook McConnell’s hand. Then McConnell left the stage before his primary opponent, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin took to the podium. It’s common for McConnell to leave before the speaking ends, but Bevin used his absence as a talking point.
“Where’s Mitch?" Bevin chanted with the crowd. "You know, the people of Kentucky have been wondering that for quite a while now. On both sides of the aisle, I’ll have you know.”
Bevin was clear that he doesn’t intend to lose his race.
"I don't intend to run to right of Mitch McConnell," Bevin said. "I don't intend to run to the left of Mitch McConnell. "I intend to run straight over the top of Mitch McConnell and straight into the U.S. Senate."
When the dust settled, KET’s Comment on Kentucky host and Fancy Farm emcee Ferrell Wellman said the event was one of the better Fancy Farms he’s ever attended.
Wellman said the Republican primary between McConnell and Bevin could be contentious.
“I think Bevin has the potential to be a serious problem for Sen. McConnell," Wellman said. "The key there is potential. What he needs to do is generate some money. He may not like the idea that you have to spend a lot money, but he’s going to need some money to match the enormous resources that Sen. McConnell has."
Unlike the Bingo tent, today’s political match-up didn’t yield a clear winner. But fundraising totals due to the Federal Election Commission in October will provide a better picture of who's ahead on points, and how well the candidates are positioned for the rest of their fight.