OWENSBORO — Emcee Kirk Kirkpatrick began the festivities with a challenge to the crowd to register and vote, and then he played a recording of the Call to the Post, just in case the crowd didn't know they were about to get a close-up look at one of Kentucky's most-watched horse races this year.
Several hundred gathered on the lawn of the Daviess County Courthouse on a sweltering Tuesday evening to hear U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes trade familiar barbs.
On the south side of the lawn, its perimeter adorned with American flags, statues dedicated to Kentucky's Confederate soldiers and former governor and U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford stood guard.
On the north side, with the Ohio River just out of sight, the state's two U.S. Senate candidates again duked it out in their last scheduled joint appearance before an Oct. 13 debate hosted by KET.
Grimes, wearing cowboy boots with her dress, led off, repeatedly mentioning Ford and blasting McConnell as out of touch, telling the crowd that "Mitch McConnell's Washington, well, it's not working for Kentucky."
"I don't know whether to call Sen. McConnell Senator No-Show, Senator Gridlock or Senator Shutdown," Grimes said. "But what I do know is that he's not working for Kentucky."
Grimes took digs at McConnell's argument that making him the next U.S. Senate majority leader would mean significant influence for Kentucky in Washington, saying, "that self-promotion, well it's not guaranteed."
"Mitch McConnell, well, he can no longer deliver," Grimes said, knocking McConnell for federal funds he brought to the state "decades ago" and warning that "the era of earmarks is over."
McConnell, wearing jeans and walking to the lectern amid chants of "We want Mitch!" begged to differ, closing his speech by reminding the crowd that the city's riverfront development, just a block from where the candidates spoke, was, in part, a result of $50 million in federal funds he secured.
"I'm proud I did it for you," McConnell said to cheers. "It's changed this community, and we'll do it again."
The senator focused most of his remarks on a rebuke of President Barack Obama, telling the crowd that "the White House is full of people who don't understand us," assailing the administration as "all college professors and community organizers."
"There is nobody Barack Obama wants to beat worse than Mitch McConnell," the senator said. "And there's nothing I would like better than for him to have a bad night Nov. 4."
Grimes accused McConnell of promising to shut down the federal government if he's re-elected, using a new attack line that resulted from an interview McConnell gave to Politico in which he said that if he became majority leader, he would attach riders to legislation that threaten to cut off funding unless Obama compromises with Republicans.
Noting that "Barack Obama isn't on the ballot," Grimes promised the crowd she would never vote to shut down the government.
McConnell opened his remarks by joking, "I think we finally found something my opponent and I can agree on: This race is about the next six years and who can be the most effective for America and Kentucky."
"This is the biggest race in the country," McConnell said. "Everybody's watching it. They're going to find out the direction Kentucky wants to take, not just for the country, but for itself."