By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
FOUNTAIN RUN — This small out of the way town of 214 near the Kentucky-Tennessee line isn’t exactly on the beaten political path, resting in a corner of Monroe County where it borders Allen and Barren counties.
But it is Republican territory and it was the place to be Saturday morning if you’re running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate this year.
Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and his primary challenger, Matt Bevin, were both here for the annual Fountain Run Barbecue Festival.
McConnell rode in the parade, sitting atop the back seat of a vintage Chevy Chevelle convertible with his wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, at his side. Bevin worked the crowd and waited for a chance to encounter McConnell.
As the small parade caravan pulled near the viewing stand, McConnell was just feet away from Bevin, who stood along the side of the parade route with members of his family and about 20 supporters waving Bevin signs over their heads.
McConnell waived in their direction, but he didn’t acknowledge them or Bevin, who trails McConnell by 20 points going into Tuesday’s primary vote, according to the latest Bluegrass Poll released Friday.
But Bevin spoke to McConnell’s state director, Terry Carmack, who walked alongside McConnell’s car in the parade and stopped to speak to Bevin momentarily.
“I told him welcome to Fountain Run,” Bevin said he told Carmack. Carmack “told me they come here all the time but I told him that’s not what people here today are telling me.”
McConnell earlier told a reporter it wasn’t his first trip to Fountain Run and he demonstrated his familiarity with Monroe County communities.
“If you’re a Republican (in Kentucky), you have to know where Fountain Run and Gamaliel and Turkey Neck Bend are,” said McConnell. He didn’t say it, but the reason Republicans need to know such things is because they outnumber Democrats 7.5 to 1 in Monroe County.
Many in the crowd Saturday wore Team Mitch stickers. But neither those nor polls showing Bevin trailing McConnell deterred Bevin from saying he will win Tuesday.
Bevin said Kentucky voters “don’t wear our political views on our sleeves. We’re notorious for going into the voting booth and making our decision there.”
He said his campaign has more grassroots support and more energy than McConnell’s campaign going into Tuesday.
“We’re going to win this thing,” said Bevin, sounding defiant if not entirely convincing.
Maybe so, but Monroe County looks like McConnell territory, according to Republican Magistrate Alonzo Ford whose district includes Fountain Run.
“Oh, Bevin will get some votes, but I figure Mitch’ll beat him two to one,” said Ford, who has no opponent in this year’s primary, which in Monroe County means he has no opponent at all.
Even one of the rare Monroe County Democrats, Franklin Graves, 73, of Tompkinsville, plans to vote for McConnell in the fall.
Graves said he’s always been a Democrat but acknowledged that in Monroe County it’s akin to being a member of an endangered species.
“It’s kind of dangerous,” he said laughing.
Graves said he has no problem with likely Democratic nominee, Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running neck and neck with McConnell in polls, but he plans to vote for McConnell.
“If I vote, I’ll vote for Mitch. I just like Mitch and we agree on a lot.”
Bonnie McCard, 73, of Fountain Run, a Republican, sat nearby. She laughed and talked with Bevin when he stopped by and shook her hand and said it’s his first trip to Fountain Run. McCard told Bevin she doesn’t like all the negative advertising.
Bevin, who complains McConnell has misrepresented Bevin’s background, heartily agreed. But when Bevin moved on to the next voter, McCard said she’s voting for McConnell. She doesn’t like Bevin’s attacks on McConnell any more than McConnell’s ads criticizing Bevin.
While Bevin stuck around and worked the crowd, McConnell left for scheduled stops in Simpson and Warren counties. Bevin even posed for a picture with three-week-old Mary Halston Brandon. Her mother, Blake Haines Brandon, lives in Lexington but grew up in nearby Glasgow where her father, Mark Haines, is backing Bevin.
McConnell posed for a couple of photos during the parade when the caravan momentarily stopped. He even responded (briefly) to a reporter’s question.
“We’re going to win,” said a smiling McConnell as he turned and waved to the other side of the street.