TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
This year’s biggest winner at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic stump speaking may have been the Fancy Farm Picnic itself.
Just two months ago, the 133rd Fancy Farm was viewed as a likely ho-hum affair in an off-year election. But then both Alison Lundergan Grimes and Matthew Bevin got into the U.S. Senate race against Mitch McConnell.
All of a sudden, Fancy Farm was at the center of the nation’s political attention. About 12,000 showed last weekend and many veteran Fancy Farm reporters said the crowd for the stump speeches was the largest they could recall.
Among the throng were the national media. Reporters from Politico and National Public Radio were there. So were the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman and NBC News’ Kacie Hunt who spread the word nationally about the spectacle that is the stump speaking at Fancy Farm.
As it does in most years, Kentucky Education Television broadcast Saturday’s speeches live and C-SPAN picked up the feed and re-ran the speeches nationally. There were stories in The Hill, the Washington Post and The New York Times.
Mark Wilson, the political chair at Fancy Farm, said the profile of Fancy Farm “has gone up another tier” with the national press presence this year and will only benefit future events.
“I think this year is just an appetizer for next year,” Wilson said Monday. “This has only planted the seed for subsequent years.”
Wilson said he talked to several of the national reporters who attended for the first time and most reflected the question of one: “What have I been missing?”
They picked a good year with Grimes, McConnell and Bevin on the same program, all of whom generally performed well, according to most press accounts. On top of that, or maybe because of it, the crowd for the stump speaking portion of the picnic may have been the largest in 30 years.
“From the speaking stand you could see it was just a solid mass of people all the way around the pavilion,” Wilson said. “I think it was one of the top five of all the crowds we’ve ever had.”
And those attending their first Fancy Farm were clearly impressed.
In addition to featuring Fancy Farm in its lead story in the Politics section, the New York Times called Fancy Farm “a venerable Kentucky Tradition.” The Times also posted a slide show of the crowds and candidates on its website.
By Monday morning, much of the nation knew about Fancy Farm – although the Washington Post may have earned some criticism from the fiercely protective volunteers who put on the annual event by calling it “quirky.”
Sunday and Monday there were national print stories, most datelined from the small rural town of less than 500 in Graves County. Then on Monday, the MSNBC Show Morning Joe devoted an entire segment to Fancy Farm with NBC’s Hunt on the set. Host Joe Scarborough, after hearing Hunt’s description and watching video segments of speeches by McConnell, Grimes and Bevin regretted he wasn’t there Saturday.
“I was in the wrong place this weekend,” Scarborough lamented as a video ran of Grimes helping Fancy Farm volunteers chop up mounds of barbecue pork.
That show was followed by another segment on the weekend by The Morning Rundown with Chuck Todd who called Fancy Farm “one of the great political events in this country.”
The Senate election doesn’t even take place until next year in 2014. The first Saturday in August of 2014 will also be nine months in advance of the 2015 gubernatorial primaries and the Fancy Farm event prior to a governor’s race is traditionally well-attended and closely watched.
Add that to the Senate race — which McConnell has termed the most important election in the country next year — and the 2014 Fancy Farm is likely to top even this year’s. There was even talk at this year’s event that someone named Clinton might appear next year — either in support of Grimes or perhaps in pursuit of another office.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.