FRANKFORT — As Mark Wilson tells it, the stage for Saturday's 131st annual Fancy Farm picnic — the epicenter of Kentucky politics for a few hours — has been "cleaned of all bovine foreign materials ... and is as shiny as a new John Deere."
How long it will stay that way is in doubt, given that two dozen political speakers are expected to throw rhetorical mud at their opponents during Kentucky's traditional kick-off to the fall campaign season.
All 24 speakers who were invited — ranging from U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to candidates for governor and other state constitutional offices — have confirmed their appearances for the free political theater that gets under way at 2 p.m. CDT on the grounds of St. Jerome Catholic Church in the far Western Kentucky community of Fancy Farm, said Wilson, political chairman of the picnic.
It will be interesting.
Never miss a local story.
That's what the Mayfield Monitor said in a July 31, 1880, notice about the first Fancy Farm picnic: "There will be a barn dance, picnic and 'gander pulling' at Fancy Farm next Thursday. Those that have never seen the latter should turn out on this occasion. It will be interesting."
No gander pulling, a blood sport in which a person riding on horseback at a full gallop tries to pull off the greased head of a live goose fastened upside down on a rope hooked to two poles and stretched across a road, is on the schedule of this weekend's picnic.
But the picnic could get messy with political rhetoric. Here are six things to watch for at this year's picnic:
The main attraction
This year's race for governor will be the primary focus of the picnic.
Look for Democratic incumbent Steve Beshear to make an attempt to look dignified while adhering to the Fancy Farm tradition of lively political discourse.
As one supporter said, don't expect Beshear to give a sewing lesson.
Holding leads of more than 20 points in recent polls over his rivals — Republican Senate President David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith — Beshear probably will dwell more on what he calls his accomplishments.
While Republicans tried to hit Beshear hard this week with allegations that a key supporter has been pressuring state workers for political donations, Beshear garnered headlines by visiting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Williams, who does not enjoy high favorable ratings in the polls, might have to ratchet up attacks on Beshear's record. And he'll probably continue linking Beshear with President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in the state.
Not just second bananas
This year's candidates for lieutenant governor are getting more media attention than usual. Expect that to continue at Fancy Farm.
The running mates for Beshear and Williams already are well known across the state. State Agriculture Commissioner Riche Farmer, on the GOP ticket, was a popular basketball player at the University of Kentucky in the early 1990s.
Beshear's running mate, Jerry Abramson, was a longtime mayor of Louisville, the state's largest city.
Farmer, still revered in the hearts of many Big Blue fans, has been the subject of media scrutiny this year about his department's spending. He also is in the middle of a divorce suit filed in April by his wife of 13 years.
Abramson is popular in Jefferson County, but his appeal is more tenuous in rural, more conservative parts of the state.
Fancy Farm will mark the first joint appearance on the campaign trail for Farmer and Abramson. Galbraith's running mate is Dea Riley, a Frankfort marketing consultant making her first bid for public office.
The attack dogs
Politicians at the Fancy Farm podium who don't face a fall election generally play the role of attack dog.
This year, McConnell and Paul and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Hopkinsville probably will have speeches peppered with put-downs that link Beshear and Obama.
The question is, which one will have the fiercest bark?
Meanwhile, three Democratic politicians are scheduled to give "farewell" speeches at the picnic because their terms of office end in December.
But a spokeswoman for one of them — Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo — said late Thursday he has decided not to go to this year's picnic because of "personal reasons."
Farewell speeches are still scheduled from state Auditor Crit Luallen and Secretary of State Elaine Walker, whom Beshear appointed to the post in January after Republican Trey Grayson resigned to take a job at Harvard University.
They will be bombarded this weekend with questions about their futures.
Mongiardo and Luallen have been mentioned as possible candidates for governor in 2015, along with Democrats such as Abramson, Attorney General Jack Conway, House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins and Louisville businessman Charlie Owen.
The down ticket
Candidates for constitutional offices other than governor and lieutenant governor often get short shrift at the picnic. But the race for attorney general between Democratic incumbent Conway and Republican Todd P'Pool is getting some attention.
Conway lost a race for the U.S. Senate last year and is generally considered vulnerable. In particular, he was pilloried for running an attack ad that appeared to question Paul's religious beliefs. The controversial "Aqua Buddha" ad referenced an incident at Baylor University in the early 1980s in which a woman, who has remained anonymous, said Paul, as part of an odd fraternity prank, tried to get her to smoke pot and made her bow down to worship "Aqua Buddha."
Will Aqua Buddha make an appearance at Fancy Farm?
There seems to be an unexpected happening each year at Fancy Farm, not counting the props and costumed characters political parties bring with them.
Last year, Paul apologized in the aftermath of the picnic for saying during a national radio interview that he worried someone in the raucous crowd would throw beer at him on stage. That didn't sit well with organizers of the picnic in the dry county.
Two years ago, Conway had to apologize for describing himself in his speech as a "tough son of a bitch." Organizers changed the rules after that to make it clear that cursing was not allowed in the speeches.