By RONNIE ELLIS
FANCY FARM — Gov. Steve Beshear may have stepped onto a political land mine here Saturday, but it wasn’t his Republican opponent, David Williams, who blistered him.
Independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith accused Beshear of “false patriotism” after Beshear used his time at the podium to talk about his visit to Iraq and Afghanistan last week instead of lobbing the traditional Fancy Farm political salvos at his opponents.
When Beshear took the stage at the 131st Fancy Farm Picnic and Political Speaking, he said he wanted to skip the partisan politics.
“Today, my heart and mind are not with partisan politics,” Beshear told the raucous crowd which became a bit less raucous as they realized he was going off the script. “My heart and mind are thousands of miles away, with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
As he spoke, there was an absence of the typically choreographed heckling by members of the other party, in this case Republicans, some of whom probably didn’t want to appear unsupportive of the troops.
Beshear, who famously didn’t meet with President Barack Obama when the president visited Ft. Campbell to honor those who took part in the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, even invoked his position as Commander in Chief of the Kentucky National Guard and talked of ordering them “into harm’s way.” At the time of the Obama visit, Beshear was in Louisville for the Kentucky Oaks horse race – but he told reporters later that he was never invited to the Ft. Campbell event.
He spoke familiarly of individual soldiers he’d met on this week’s trip and even called on the grandparents of one of those soldiers to stand and be recognized. There were a couple of times his voice wavered slightly. Some in the crowd chanted: “USA! USA! USA!” and waved small American flags.
During Beshear’s remarks, Williams could be seen exchanging looks with Galbraith and both appeared to shrug or shake their heads.
When Williams’ turn came, he congratulated Beshear on the trip.
“Governor, you did the right thing. You did the wrong thing when you wouldn’t leave the Oaks to go down to Ft. Campbell, but you did the right thing this time,” Williams said as Republicans in the crowd cheered. Shortly after that he moved on to the things he wants the campaign to be about.
But when Galbraith came to the microphone, he didn’t hold back. He said “that was the worst darn speech I ever heard anybody give.” Galbraith said Beshear should’ve talked about how to solve Kentucky’s problems rather than “try to hide behind the bodies of our young men and women of the military. I got an honorable discharge from the Marines and I was highly offended by it.”
Afterward, Beshear told reporters he was moved by his experience in the Middle East and his speech Saturday was genuinely felt. He said if others found the speech inappropriate, “that is their problem.”
Beshear enjoys wide leads in publicly released polls, leading Williams by more than 20 points. The conventional rule for politicians facing the daunting crowds at Fancy Farm is not to make a mistake, to do themselves no harm. Given the public support of the military, especially in Kentucky, it must have seemed sound strategy to avoid potential political traps and talk about something on which most agree – supporting the troops serving in the two middle eastern wars.
Beshear left to his running mate, former Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson, the job of laying out why Beshear should get a second term. Abramson talked about the governor’s balancing of the budget in tough economic times and his responses to a series of natural disasters, several of which hit western Kentucky especially hard.
Williams, after his comments on the Beshear visit with the troops, turned to what some political analysts say he must do – make the race about Beshear.
“If I were Steve Beshear, I wouldn’t want to talk about my record either,” Williams said. He alluded to recent news stories that some administration employees have been pressured to contribute to Beshear’s campaign, called him a weak governor, and criticized Beshear’s work in the liquidation of Kentucky Life several years ago.
He said he and running mate Richie Farmer support the Second Amendment and are pro-life. He said unemployment has gone up under Beshear and called for tax reform to make Kentucky more competitive.
Galbraith hit his usual themes – that he’s an independent who can overcome partisanship in Frankfort. He called for a $5,000 voucher for high school graduates to be used at any post-secondary institution and said he opposes mountaintop removal.
He said Williams cannot win this election. “Only I can beat Steve Beshear and that’s because we’ve got solutions to problems.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be contacted by email at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.