Gov. Matt Bevin avoided the 138th annual St. Jerome Picnic this year.
On late Friday afternoon, as politicos from all over the state prepared for the political event, Bevin’s scheduler sent an email saying the governor wouldn’t be able to attend.
Bevin avoided a raucous event he famously derided in his speech in 2015. He avoided the carloads of angry teachers in attendance.
But he didn’t avoid the attention of the Democrats considering a run for governor in 2019.
“Speaking of Matt Bevin,” said Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in a speech that criticized Bevin for everything from how much he paid for his mansion to his stance on women’s rights. “A lot of people can’t see him winning in 2019. Even the Republicans don’t have nice things coming out of their mouths about him. That’s because he took away both their vision and dental insurance.”
Bevin has not yet said whether he will run for reelection, igniting rumors about potential Republican candidates for the state’s highest office in the process. Grimes highlighted that uncertainty when she noted that there have been rumors that Bevin wants to join the administration of President Donald Trump (and said she “didn’t know he speaks Russian”).
Education was the issue of the day for the Democratic Party. Teachers bused down to Fancy Farm from throughout the state, wearing bright red t-shirts supporting the public education system and the Kentucky Education Association.
But it was a Republican who had the most poignant nod to teachers upset with comments the governor made as Republicans tried to push pension reform through the legislature.
“[My wife] and I want to thank all the teachers all across the Commonwealth who work so hard and deserve the respect of the highest elected officials,” Congressman James Comer said at the beginning of his speech.
Comer lost to Bevin by 83 votes in the 2015 gubernatorial campaign and has been mentioned as someone who might consider running for governor should Bevin choose not to run. He has not been afraid to criticize Bevin while he’s been in Congress and last year criticized the governor for not releasing his tax returns.
But on Saturday morning, Comer denied having gubernatorial ambitions. He said he plans to stay in Congress “as long as the voters will have me.”
While the Republicans largely avoided talk of who will be at the top of their ticket in 2019, the Democrats openly sparred.
The breakfasts and suppers leading up to the main event Saturday served as a required stop for Democrats with gubernatorial ambition in 2019.
Beshear is the only Democrat who has officially announced his campaign for governor. But his decision to announce before November has been the subject to some rumbling in the Democratic Party, including among other potential gubernatorial hopefuls.
“I’m committed to getting folks who are on the November ballot elected,” said Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat from Louisville who is considering running for governor. “And I also think it’s unfair to them to have those of us who may be running for governor fund raising in competition for them when it’s hard enough as it is to raise money.”
Beshear noted that he announced later than his father, Steve Beshear, eight years ago and former Democratic nominee Jack Conway four years ago.
“In each of those elections, Democrats did well in both their House and their Senate campaigns,” Beshear said.
In her speech from the Fancy Farm stage, Grimes also took a veiled shot at Beshear for declaring before the statehouse race. Grimes, who peppered her fellow elected officials with pointed jokes throughout her speech, has been coy about which office she’ll run for next year and didn’t offer any additional insight Saturday.
“I dream of coming back on this stage next year,” she said, noting that many people had asked about her political future. “And that is a dream that will come true.”
Two more Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls didn’t even have the chance to take the stage. Former Auditor Adam Edelen and House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, all but said they were running for governor, but still have not announced.
“Everybody in Kentucky who pays attention to this stuff knows that I want to be governor,” Edelen said.
“And it’s true. But there’s things I’ve got to get done.”
For his part, Adkins focused on his role in the effort to flip the statehouse. But he didn’t rule out the possibility that he’d make his announcement prior to the November elections.
“My focus is on November the 6th,” Adkins said. “And whether I’m an announced candidate or whether I’m not for governor, I’m going to continue to travel the state and my focus is going to be on our candidates.”