FANCY FARM — Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo accused Attorney General Jack Conway on Saturday of standing up for "the silver spoon crowd" — the rich and powerful.
But Conway, Mongiardo's opponent in May's Democratic primary election for the U.S. Senate, shot back that Mongiardo, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, had "misdiagnosed" him.
"When it comes to me, you can't hear the truth, you can't smell the truth and you sure as hell can't speak the truth," Conway said.
Mongiardo and Conway provided the most potent verbal fireworks at Saturday's 129th annual Fancy Farm picnic, which traditionally kicks off the election season.
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The picnic — emceed by Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky — focused on next year's U.S. Senate race.
Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Southgate announced last week he would not seek a third term. Four Democrats and three Republicans have expressed an interest in capturing the seat.
While the Republican candidates at the picnic spoke little of each other, Mongiardo and Conway threw some stinging barbs as they gear up for a fight.
Mongiardo, who lost to Bunning in 2004, attacked Conway at the picnic and earlier in the day at the Graves County Democratic breakfast on the controversial issue of President Barack Obama's energy policy.
It is commonly known as "cap and trade," which involves an effort to cap carbon emissions from coal-generating plants and allowing companies to trade credits for pollution control.
Mongiardo claimed Conway supports the policy, which he said would increase electric rates by raising the cost of coal.
He called it "Jack's energy tax."
Conway said he would not do anything to hurt Kentucky coal. He also noted that he served six years in the administration of Gov. Paul Patton, "a coal governor."
Wildcat or Devil?
Conway said he's in the best position to lead Democrats to recapture the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Democrat Wendell Ford of Owensboro.
"I've been around for awhile, and you are looking at one tough son of a bitch," Conway said.
He added that he would "not take any crap from Republicans, who messed things up over the last eight years."
Mongiardo also made Conway's alma mater a political issue.
Mongiardo said he was a proud University of Kentucky Wildcat while Conway is a Blue Devil who attended Duke University in North Carolina.
Conway said Mongiardo's comment was "kind of cute."
For any Kentucky voter who is troubled that he attended Duke, Conway said, he pledged to let former UK basketball coach Joe B. Hall, who attended Saturday's picnic, stomp on his chest.
Conway played up his office's fight against cybercrimes, particularly against children, and Mongiardo said he is ready to finish the job for the U.S. Senate seat that he started in 2004.
Grayson versus Obama
Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who is expected to announce his official campaign in a few weeks, said he congratulated Mongiardo and Conway on additions to their families.
Daniel and Allison Mongiardo are expecting a child later this year, and Jack and Elizabeth Conway recently had a baby girl.
"You all will love being parents," Grayson said. "The good news is that babies eventually sleep regularly. The even better news is that after November 2010, you will have plenty of time to spend with your newborns."
Grayson, considered the frontrunner in the GOP primary, spent most of his speech criticizing Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
Grayson called the "cap and trade" legislation "a new energy tax levied every time you start your car or flip on a light switch. It's anti-coal, and it's anti-Kentucky."
He said it would cost Kentucky farmers and business owners at least $5 billion over the next 10 years.
"That means higher utility bills, fewer jobs and less take-home pay. But that's a liberal for you," Grayson said. "They'd rather punish hard-working Kentuckians than force China or India to deal with their own environmental records."
Paul versus both parties
Rand Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon who is expected to announce this week that he is a candidate in the GOP primary, railed against the hypocrisy of both political parties.
He criticized Conway on the energy issue and pledged never to vote for a budget that was not balanced.
Bill Johnson, a Todd County businessman and a Navy veteran who will run in the Republican primary, told the Fancy Farm crowd that he was not a politician.
Johnson said he was running to serve and would fight domestic enemies.
Someone in the crowd shouted out "Obama" and Johnson said he agreed.
Two other Democratic candidates for the Senate also spoke.
Darlene Fitzgerald Price, a former U.S. Customs agent from McCreary County, said she is tired of "bought-off bureaucrats" and would be a public servant.
Maurice Sweeney, an Eastwood businessman and leader in human rights, called himself "a conservative Democrat."
"What does that mean?" he asked, answering his own question: "I bought this tie at Wal-Mart."