Sam Youngman: A Fancy Farm newbie finds much that's award-worthy

syoungman@herald-leader.comAugust 3, 2014 

After my friend James Higdon, author of Cornbread Mafia, reached out Sunday morning to ask about the winning raffle number for the Jeep Wrangler given away at the Fancy Farm picnic this weekend, I decided to hand out some other Fancy Farm awards.

Overall Blue Ribbon: This contest wasn't even close. Mark Wilson and his team at St. Jerome Catholic Church in far Western Kentucky deserve a standing ovation for putting on a picnic that became the center of the political universe this weekend.

Wilson is about the friendliest guy you'll ever meet, and once a year he manages to reanimate a dying and critical part of our grand American experiment — he brings the politicians to the people. Take a bow, sir.

Don't Call It a Comeback Award: Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes's speech seemed rehearsed but well-executed in person. On video, it might have been the Democratic candidate's best since getting in the U.S. Senate race.

Fancy Farm won't change the overall structure of Grimes' battle against U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but Grimes has had a rough few weeks, and she needed the great day she got. Paired with a visit from President Bill Clinton this week, Grimes' performance at Fancy Farm should help steady some Democrats' nerves after a few troubling stumbles.

Not Great, But Good Enough Award: There might have been a time when Fancy Farm was McConnell's bread and butter, but on Saturday the senator struggled to land his best jokes or take full advantage of the inventory of gaffes Grimes has stocked for him. If you're going to do a call-and-response with the audience, the call has to be crisp.

That said, McConnell didn't lose anything this weekend, but he didn't gain much, either. Like March Madness, the name of the game is survive and advance, and McConnell cleared that bar.

Poetry Recital That Could Have Gone Really Wrong Award: It wouldn't be Fancy Farm and it wouldn't be Rand Paul if it wasn't just a little weird.

Our uh-oh antennae shot up as soon as Kentucky's junior senator began with "There once was a woman from Kentucky ... ." But Paul's poem was funny enough, even if the only way you could tell it ended was that at some point the senator stopped rhyming. But more to the point, Paul was on-message and throwing his full weight behind McConnell. Paul has more balls in the air than just about any politician right now, but he needed to check that box with vigor, and he did. Now on to Iowa.

As Joe Biden's Mom Used to Say, 'God Love 'Em' Award: Oh, Charles Hatchett, bless your heart. The little-known Democrat running against Republican U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield deserves credit for getting on the stage, but, man, he certainly made the crowd appreciate the value of a good speechwriter.

"God hates a liar" probably isn't the best closing line for a political speech.

What Were You Thinking? Award: Another runaway win, but this one goes to Democratic operative Kathy Groob, who said on Twitter that it was "fair game" to criticize McConnell's wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, for being Asian.

The Kentucky Democratic Party quickly denounced the Twitter postings, which Groob deleted.

Grimes had a good day that was marred by a dumb and needless shot.

Best Day-After Exchange About Being on a BBQ Bender Award: Here's an email exchange I had Sunday with former Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

Grayson: "I had four sandwiches yesterday. It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Me: "I somehow just did the buffet at Moonlite (Bar-B-Q in Owensboro)."

Grayson: "Can't judge you. I just had a large sandwich from Heeton's in Princeton."

We might need help.

And on a personal note:

Despite growing up in Owensboro and covering political events all over the country, this was my first Fancy Farm picnic. It was a blast from beginning to end.

I'm truly blessed to have the job I do if for no other reason than it takes me to such beautiful places and wonderful people. This was my first, but unless I'm overtaken by my barbecue habit, it certainly won't be my last.

See y'all next year. We'll see if Higdon shows up in that Jeep.

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

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