By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
FANCY FARM – The political stump speaking at the 133rd Fancy Farm Picnic showed three things.
-Alison Lundergan Grimes doesn’t scare easily.
-Mitch McConnell doesn’t rattle easily.
-And Matt Bevin isn’t uneasy in heat of the political arena.
Bevin is the Louisville investment manager who is running an insurgent, partly tea party-backed primary against McConnell, the five-term Republican U.S Senator and Minority Leader. Grimes is heavily favored to win the Democratic Party nomination after being wooed into the race by national Democrats and Kentucky Democrats eager to take McConnell down.
A fourth candidate, Owensboro Democrat Ed Marksberry, took it easy on Grimes and Bevin but lashed out against McConnell with some of the harshest lines of the day.
They were the featured speakers at the 133rd Fancy Farm Picnic here and this year’s political stump speeches drew one of the largest crowds in years, extending into the sunshine well beyond the shaded pavilion which houses the speaking stand.
McConnell never mentioned Grimes by name, but he invoked that of her father, two-time Kentucky Democratic Chairman Jerry Lundergan. Grimes has made much of her gender and criticized McConnell on votes against legislation to guarantee equal pay for equal work and the Violence Against Women Act.
But McConnell said it was nonetheless good to see Jerry Lundergan “back in the game.”
McConnell said, when Lundergan was urged to donate money to women’s causes, “He sent a check to Anthony Weiner,” the candidate for New York mayor who left Congress after texting semi-undressed photos of himself to women.
He then pivoted to themes he’d used earlier at the Republican Breakfast gathering in Mayfield Saturday morning, telling the crowd the race would decide “what kind of America we want to have, what kind of Kentucky we want to have.”
“And here’s the choice,” McConnell continued. “Is the Senate going to be run by a Nevada yes man for Barack Obama who believes coal makes you sick – or the guy you’re looking at?” Democratic Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid is from Nevada.
“Look, as long as I am in the Senate, Kentucky will have a voice instead of San Francisco and Martha Vineyard,” said McConnell, referring to first the home of Democratic U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and the site of a Democratic Senate Campaign Committee fundraising meeting attended by Grimes.
But Grimes was ready for her time at the podium and while a large contingent of Republicans dressed in red “Team Mitch” tee shirts tried to shout her down, screaming, “We want Mitch! We want Mitch!” throughout her speech, she managed to complete it without any mistakes.
She began by trying to turn the tables on McConnell, whose campaign has made fun of her penchant for referring to herself in the third person and using her entire name.
Grimes allowed that it is indeed a long name – invoking a line by her grandmother in a 2011 campaign commercial when she ran for Kentucky secretary of state – but come January 2016, she said, “You can call me Sen. Grimes” as the Democratic contingent roared and the Republicans booed.
She talked of McConnell’s long tenure in the Senate and rattled off a series of votes against legislation to ensure women are paid the same as men for the same jobs, legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, votes against increasing the minimum wage and said McConnell had voted to double Medicare premiums for seniors.
Democrats have labeled McConnell Washington’s “chief obstructionist” and the “guardian of gridlock.”
“Just telling it like it is,” Grimes said, “if Sen. McConnell he had a kidney stone, he’d refuse to pass it.”
Grimes invited the crowd to join “Team Switch” in a play on McConnell’s campaign logo and theme, saying again, “I don’t scare easy and neither does Kentucky.”
McConnell who has a reputation for bare-knuckle campaigning sat behind her, listening and occasionally smiling and whispering to his wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
But he was gone by the time Bevin came to the podium. Also gone were many of the young Republicans wearing those red Team Mitch shirts and who had been bused in by the campaign and Republican Party.
Bevin took note. Referring to a famous television commercial McConnell used effectively against then Democratic incumbent Sen. Dee Huddleston back in 1984 showing a hunter and dogs trying to track down Huddleston, Bevin said, “Mitch McConnell has amazingly disappeared.
“It’s like a 30-year flashback,” Bevin said. “But instead of ‘Where’s Dee?” It’s ‘Where’s Mitch?’”
A small contingent of Bevin supporters rang small bells in support of Bevin whose family owns a manufacturing company in Connecticut which makes Salvation Army bells. McConnell has labeled Bevin “Bailout Bevin” because the company took government grants to rebuild the factory after it burned.
Saturday Bevin showed he can counterpunch – and quote poetry.
“Let me tell you something Senator: ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for you,” said Bevin. He also said McConnell who promised earlier in the day to repeal Obamacare “root and branch” – hadn’t done enough to repeal the law.
Bevin said he’d spare Grimes any criticism because they could take on each other at next year’s Fancy Farm, implying he’d defeat McConnell in the primary.
Marksberry’s concluding speech seemed almost impromptu. He came to the podium in a hat and said he was dedicating his speech to Gatewood Galbraith, who was known for a large hat and running numerous and unsuccessful races for state government or Congress and who died last year.
But he hit McConnell hard, noting the senator is often portrayed in caricatures with no chin.
“Years of kissing the butts of the corporate elite will just rub your chin right off,” Marksberry said.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
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