Matt Bevin's love-hate-love-hate relationship with the annual Fancy Farm picnic this last weekend was confusing, contradictory and likely ill-advised.
After all, when your opponent is constantly questioning the depth of your Kentucky roots, it's probably not wise to respond by wiping your feet on one of the state's oldest and most beloved political traditions.
But if there was one redeeming aspect to such a strange approach, it is that for about five minutes on a sweaty Saturday in far Western Kentucky, voters knew exactly where Bevin stood — behind a lectern.
Beyond that time slot, abruptly cut off by the delightful sound of the Kentucky Wildcats' fight song, where Bevin stands is increasingly anybody's guess.
Regarding Fancy Farm, he called it "an incredible piece of American history" in 2013, according to The Courier-Journal. But on Saturday, Bevin chided the crowd for "celebrating the very worst elements of the political process" and doing so "in a childish way that frankly does not resolve any of the issues that we face." Then on Monday, he criticized the church fundraising picnic again while talking to Joe Elliott on WGTK radio. But he also claimed to have praised the picnic as an "amazing event" from the stage Saturday, which he did not.
If Bevin's flip-flop dance around Fancy Farm — hate it one minute and love it the next then rinse and repeat — was a dizzying exercise in double-speak, it pales in comparison to the mixed signals and statements he is giving on big-ticket issues, such as Medicaid.
In February, just days after he had entered the race for governor at the last minute, Bevin held a news conference in Shelbyville where he unveiled his "Blueprint for Kentucky." During the news conference, Adam Beam of the Associated Press asked Bevin specifically if he would undo Gov. Steve Beshear's executive order that expanded Medicaid eligibility, paving the way for more than 400,000 additional Kentuckians to join the federal health insurance program.
Bevin was adamant: "Absolutely. No question about it. I would reverse that immediately."
But last week, during and after the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's candidate forum, Bevin backed off that claim, denying he ever said it.
"That isn't what I said," Bevin said. "I said I would address it immediately. I said I would address it. I didn't say I would end it. Go back and look at what I said."
On issue after issue, Bevin is reversing himself and blaming the media for mistaking straight-aways for u-turns, all the while doing something that most Kentucky political observers long thought impossible: Making Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee for governor, look consistent and unwavering.
Bevin has been all over the map on health care, early childhood education, public-private partnerships for infrastructure, and his rocky past with Mitch McConnell. And that's not even a comprehensive list.
None of this has been lost on the Kentucky Democratic Party, which on Tuesday released a brutal web video of statements Bevin has made in front of cameras followed by contradictory statements he has made on camera.
"I would remind Bevin that the object in front of him at many events is a video camera, and the next time he tries to mislead Kentuckians about his plans that would hurt our hardworking families he should really check the tape," said party chairman Patrick Hughes in a statement accompanying the web video.
It's a given in modern American politics that candidates will run to the fringe of their party to win a primary, then slowly and quietly try to move back to the middle to win over the general election electorate.
But Bevin is changing/evolving/reversing on so many issues and with such ardent denial of his original positions, he is creating an aura of mystery around himself that could be Conway's saving grace in a political environment that is as favorable to Republicans as it has ever been.
And that mystery only deepens when Bevin is asked about what he would do as governor.
Republican insiders who meet with him often come away frustrated and worried, posing confidential questions to the candidate about what his cabinet might look like that he refuses to answer.
As part of his "Blueprint," Bevin said he wants to sell off state-owned properties and assets to inject much-needed revenue into the state coffers. But in February and again last week, Bevin refused to say with any specificity what properties and assets he had in mind with the exception of vague talk about privatizing some of the state parks.
While the state has a bipartisan history of candidates releasing their tax returns, Bevin has said repeatedly that he won't release his until after he is elected.
And at last week's forum, when moderator Ryan Alessi, formerly of the Lexington Herald-Leader and CN|2, asked Bevin what area he would like to see prioritized in his budget, Bevin's response caused the jaws that weren't busy laughing to drop wide-open.
"If I told you that, I'd have to kill you," Bevin said. "I'm being completely serious."
It's unlikely that Bevin was being "completely serious" about killing Alessi, but it seems more and more that neither is he completely serious about letting Kentuckians know who he is and what he believes in.
In May, Josh Holmes, a former top aide to McConnell, told the Courier-Journal that if Bevin "had moved to a state where he had a better shot at being elected to office as a Democrat, he would articulate the values of liberalism with the same conviction he now talks about conservatism."
"It's abundantly clear that his guiding light is to embrace whatever gets himself a little further down the road," Holmes said.
Where that road leads is anybody's guess at this point because less than 100 days out, Bevin is in a good position to win this race despite himself.
But if it leads back to Fancy Farm next year, it seems entirely possible the picnic's hard-working organizers can rest easy under the assumption that Bevin will deny ever condemning the nature of the event while hailing it as the greatest political gathering in the history of the world.