Fancy Farm: Barbs traded in U.S. Senate race; candidate announces run for governor

syoungman@herald-leader.comAugust 1, 2014 

FANCY FARM — Alison Lundergan Grimes and Mitch McConnell traded barbs, James Comer announced he will run for governor and Rand Paul read poetry.

While Comer provided a big finish for Republicans near the end of Saturday's Fancy Farm picnic in front of a record crowd in far West Kentucky, the U.S. Senate race was the main event as supporters of McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state, got rowdy early and stayed that way through the speeches.

[See KET video of each Fancy Farm speech]

[Tom Eblen: At Fancy Farm, the food is great; the political theater is better]

[Fancy Farm notes: Auditor leaves door open for U.S. Senate bid]

On a new stage at one of Kentucky's oldest and most famous political traditions, Grimes blasted McConnell as having gone Washington, pushing the refrain that instead of District of Columbia, D.C. stands for "doesn't care."

With hundreds of the 20,000 picnic-goers looking on, Grimes shouted: "What a huge crowd for Sen. McConnell's retirement party."

McConnell and Paul responded, hammering the message that a vote for Grimes is a vote for the agenda of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama.

Despite its reputation, Fancy Farm was not the firehose of vitriol aimed at the candidates that organizers feared, and none of the major candidates committed gaffes that will haunt them in November.

When her name was called, Grimes hugged her husband, shook Gov. Steve Beshear's hand and blasted McConnell, noting that "35 is my age — that's also his approval rating."

"If Mitch McConnell were a TV show he'd be Mad Men," Grimes said. "Treating women unfairly, stuck in 1968 and ending this season."

During his speech, McConnell took another step toward trying to tie Grimes to the unpopular Obama, noting similarities between Grimes and the president. McConnell pointed out that Obama had been in the U.S. Senate for only two years when he ran for office, then asked, "Sound familiar?

"And every time he got in trouble and his inexperience became obvious he called in Bill Clinton," McConnell said. "Sound familiar?"

The former president is scheduled to campaign with Grimes this week.

Paul, who has been drawing plenty of national attention as he flirts with a 2016 presidential run, kept his remarks focused on criticizing Grimes as a rubber-stamp for Reid and praising McConnell as a defender of Kentucky jobs and values.

"Does anyone here want President Obama to pick our next senator?" Paul asked as Republicans jeered the president's name and Democrats jeered Paul.

Paul started with a poem at Grimes' expense, beginning, "There once was a woman from Kentucky."

"To the liberals she sells her soul, the same ones who hate Kentucky coal," Paul recited.

Comer opened his remarks with criticisms of Attorney General Jack Conway, joining in the political potshots before taking a more serious tone in describing what he sees as Kentucky's ills.

As the timekeeper gave the commissioner a warning, Comer's wife, T.J., appeared by his side as he announced that he will be a candidate for governor in 2015.

Kentucky's other elected statewide officials, all of whom are Democrats, took turns criticizing McConnell.

Gov. Steve Beshear, who was the first speaker Saturday, started by asking the crowd for patience as he walked over to McConnell and took a selfie with the senator.

"I'm sorry, I just had to get one last photo of the senator before Kentucky voters retire him in November," Beshear said as the crowd erupted. "And retire him they will."

Clifton Gardner, who was attending his seventh or eighth Fancy Farm, said he was supporting Grimes because "she has our working people's best interests at heart."

"I think she could help us people that work and don't have it as good as the rich people," Gardner said. "And she also helps women and wants to make things equal. We're going to support her and hopefully get her in."

O.J. Oleka, attending his first Fancy Farm, said he was voting for McConnell after he met him and asked what the senator was "going to do for us in Washington when you're majority leader?"

"He said he would fight for Kentucky," Oleka said. "What the president is doing with the EPA isn't right. While the rest of the country might be coming out of the recession, Kentucky is behind and Eastern Kentucky is especially lagging. It isn't because of Sen. McConnell, it's because of the president's policies."

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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