Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 26, 2013

RONNIE ELLIS: Fancy Farm fun approaches

By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — Hoo boy! It’s time to head to Fancy Farm, the normally peaceful hamlet in Graves County that once a year turns into a raucous, delicious celebration of its history, great food and politics gone wild.

This is a non-election year but recent developments in the U.S. Senate race make this year’s Fancy Farm look especially tasty. Political Chairman Mark Wilson (one of the most affable, congenial persons one will ever meet) said not only will Sen. Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes speak but so will McConnell’s just announced primary challenger, Matthew Bevin.

McConnell seeks a sixth term next year and remains favored to win re-election, but things haven’t gone as smoothly recently as McConnell would have wished.

There are signs his control of Senate Republicans may be slipping just a bit. Sen. John McCain worked out a filibuster deal with Democratic Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid, apparently without McConnell’s direct participation. Then Bevin announced he’ll run as a tea party challenger in the Republican primary, something McConnell desperately wanted to avoid.

Thursday, Grimes sent her supporters a video demonstrating she’s planning to put up a fight. She directly and defiantly addresses McConnell in the video, saying she doesn’t scare easily and basically telling him to bring it on.

Wilson said other potential Senate candidates will be given speaking slots, including Owensboro Democrat Ed Marksberry. The state’s two top Democrats, Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, will be missing as will Sen. Rand Paul. (Abramson’s absence might indicate he’s decided not to run for governor in 2015.)

As others often point out, candidates probably can’t win an election at Fancy Farm, but they can lose one if they commit a major gaffe. The respective campaigns will train video cameras on opposing candidates to capture any missteps, and if they do you’ll see them over and over in campaign commercials.

McConnell faces attack from both sides. He’ll probably talk more about Barack Obama than Grimes or Bevin who McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, says represents little more than a “nuisance.” (Don’t believe it; the day Bevin announced, McConnell put up an ad entitled “Bailout Bevin.”) History also suggests some of McConnell’s young supporters will show up in costume to poke fun at Grimes or Bevin.

But this year McConnell will speak without some help he usually has. Scott Jennings has previously supplied some of the punch lines in McConnell’s Fancy Farm speeches but this time Jennings is working with a SuperPAC backing McConnell and so cannot coordinate with the McConnell campaign.

Grimes will face an antagonistic crowd of Republicans trying their best to drown her out, hoping she’ll raise her decibel level in the heat and bombast. Republicans have made fun of Grimes’ occasional penchant for raising her voice while speaking to crowds. Her goal is to try to make the race about McConnell, separate herself from Obama and portray herself as a loyal defender of coal.

Bevin will confront something probably unlike anything he’s ever seen – the harassing, hollering partisans trying to embarrass, provoke or drown him out. It’ll be a severe test for the political novice, but as Paul showed in 2009 it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate he is a credible challenger to the status quo.

Like Paul four years ago, Bevin will also likely attract a bunch of newcomers to Fancy Farm this year. They’re in for a treat.

So too are you — if you go. I’m pretty sure I can promise you’ve never seen anything like it, and if you enjoy politics, you ought to see it at least once.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.