FANCY FARM — The annual political picnic here has long been a partisan battle of wits and one-liners, where the politicians trade barbs and laughs and the crowd eggs them on.
But apparently nobody told Matt Bevin, the Republican candidate for governor in the November election.
On Saturday, while Democrats, including gubernatorial nominee and attorney general Jack Conway, used their time on stage to remind voters of Bevin's rocky past as a politician, Bevin took the stage to decry the nature of the event and call for unity.
In a sharp departure from the theme of the picnic, Bevin said he was glad to be at the event, which primarily serves as a fundraiser for St. Jerome's Parrish, but said that the people there "literally are celebrating the very worst elements of the political process."
Never miss a local story.
"We are celebrating our divisions, and we are doing it in a childish way that frankly does not resolve any of the issues that we face," Bevin said.
To the surprise of the crowd, Bevin asked the crowd to join him in the Pledge of Allegiance before devoting his speech to a denunciation of partisanship and a call to heed the Kentucky state motto, "United we stand, divided we fall."
The more Bevin called for unity — bypassing attempts at humor altogether — the more the boos from the Democratic side of the pavilion intensified, until the University of Kentucky Wildcats fight song came on and Bevin's microphone cut out, signifying that his allotted time had lapsed.
Matt Jones, host of Kentucky Sports Radio and the emcee of the event, approached the lectern after Bevin finished, noting how unusual the speech was.
"Matt I've got to give you credit, that was a strong speech, coming to Fancy Farm and saying you don't like Fancy Farm," Jones said. "It's like me going to Rupp Arena and saying Rick Pitino is a better coach than Calipari."
While Bevin avoided attacking his opponent and defending himself, former rival and current U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell picked up the slack.
"I don't really think it's all that complicated," McConnell said. "If you want a candidate with better ideas, vote for Matt Bevin. If you want the candidate with better hair, vote for Jack Conway."
McConnell said that Conway wasn't fooling anyone by traveling around the state pretending to be John Wayne.
"The only John you remind people of is John Edwards, minus the authenticity," McConnell said.
The crowd this year was smaller than last year's, and the event lacked the energy of last year's, when McConnell's political future was in question and young Democrats were fired up for Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who excelled at the event on her way to a 16-point defeat.
At that event, Gov. Steve Beshear held up his phone and took a selfie with McConnell, telling the crowd he wanted a souvenir of McConnell's last Fancy Farm.
Never one to forget such a slight, McConnell produced a copy of that picture Saturday, inviting Beshear to join him at the lectern and reading aloud the inscription: "Steve, enjoy your retirement. I'll still be working."
The Democratic speakers largely avoided McConnell, focusing their barbs on Bevin. Jones accused the senator of being a "Louisville fan," making the joke that McConnell had first been elected to the Senate the year of the first Fancy Farm.
But Conway was on-message, reminding voters that McConnell's campaign last year called Bevin an "East Coast con man" and a "pathological liar," noting the size of the crowd and saying, "normally he's got to go to a cockfighting rally to get a crowd this big."
Conway said that Bevin "lies to us about the big things and the small things (and) we can't trust Matt Bevin to look out for us."
Conway and the Democrats that followed talked about Bevin's New Hampshire upbringing, his history of tax liens and his attendance at a pro-cockfighting rally.
Beshear, his son Andy running for attorney general, challenged Bevin to release his tax returns in the bipartisan tradition of gubernatorial candidates, saying it was "time to man up and just be truthful for a change."
As per usual, there were plenty of sideshows at the annual event, including a man dressed like Pinnochio (or "Bevinnochio"), two people dressed in chicken suits with boxing gloves, and "Free Pedicures" jokingly offered by the Kentucky Democratic Party. Their candidate for attorney general, Andy Beshear, is running against Whitney Westerfield; the offer was a reference to a pedicure Westerfield once received.
Missing was U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who was campaigning for president in Iowa, or, as Jones put it: "Shucking corn in Dubuque."
"Come back home. You're not going to win," Jones said to Paul in a direct appeal. "The crazy people are voting for Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. You're not gonna win."
Would-be independent gubernatorial candidate Drew Curtis attended his first Fancy Farm, saying he thought the event was going "to be a miserable, miserable experience."
"What I'm finding here is everybody's here for a party, and this is more my style," Curtis said.
Curtis was planning to stay at the pavilion well after the political crowds had left to join the band in singing Simple Minds' Don't You (Forget About Me), which he planned to dedicate to Bevin.