Fancy Farm Garners National Attention by Ronnie Ellis
The Independent 8/5/13
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 US 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 thrones 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 Educational 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 who 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 crowd 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 datelines 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 the 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 New Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Follow CNHI New Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort
A Fancy Farm First-Timer: Notes from a Morning Edition Host by Jonathan Bastian
Fancy Farm Picnic. Let's just start with the name. The first time I heard it, with no event description, my mind drifted towards whimsy and fluff: Martha Stewart convention? Petting zoo? Dressage? Antebellum actors? Turns out I was a little off. And when I made the trip this weekend from Louisville, I did not expect enflamed politicians shaking their fists in the air; partisan crowds engulfing each other with heckles and howls; the smell of dead pigs thicker than the humidity; and perhaps the most instructive and inimitable lesson in Kentucky politics an outsider could receive in three hours. Fancy Farm is squeezed into the southwest corner of Kentucky. It's removal from any urban center adds to its remoteness, its emptiness. There is, however, a uranium enrichment nearby, as well as a state penitentiary, referred to as the "Castle on the Cumberland" for its eerily ornate architecture. Enter Fancy Farm from the east on Route 80 and you'll see hundred of "Team Mitch" posters, referring to Mitch McConnell, staked into the ground. The land is flatter down here. Trees are cleared for corn fields. The density of cars increase each mile closer to the event, with glinting red and blue bumper stickers signaling who the drivers will support this day. You can smell Fancy Farm before you can see it. It's estimated that 20,000 pounds of BBQ are prepared for the event. That's a lot of steaming carcasses wafting through the air. I caught whiffs of it through my window pulling into the miniscule community overtaken by people. The first demonstrators were Tea Partiers, shouldering signs for the newly declared Matt Bevin, who was slated to speak later in the day. I feared the weather would keep people away. Saturday started with fits of drizzle and low-hanging clouds. It didn't seem to matter. Thousands flocked from all corners of the state. By 1:30 PM, the sun was out, and the sweat was flowing. The site itself is comprised of multiple open-air structures that have not changed in decades. Imagine permanent tents constructed of wood and plastic - ideal, perhaps, for storing tractors or farm equipment. Only now they are stuffed with people. The largest tent is lined with picnic tables upon which hundreds of people are playing bingo. Further in, children are shrieking over other ancient games. They are attempting to throw dimes into teacups, or plastic rings around the tops of glass soda bottles. Everything just feels old-timey - and is old-timey. Fancy Farm Picnic began in 1880, and continues, technically, as a fundraiser for the local church, St. Jerome's Parish. The age of the event, combined with its geographic isolation and the preaching-like nature of the political speeches, made me feel like I stumbled upon a Southern Revival of the 19th Century. Or, like something straight out of the film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Consult a map and you'll notice how close you are to the banks of the Mississippi River. Off to the side, in a separate auditorium, hundred of people are waiting in line for the famous Knights of Columbus feast. I too endured the lines and was rewarded with vat upon vat of home cooking: three different types of bean dishes, piquant trays of coleslaw, fluffy wings of friend children, bucketfuls of barbecue, ice tea so sweet your teeth ache, and pies - tables and tables of colorful pies melting on Styrofoam plates. I shoveled down what I could, and jumped back into the political scene. Immediately, I was amazed at how quickly the Alison Lundergan Grimes base had solidified in such a short period. Though Team Mitch may have won the poster war on the way in, the Grimes contingency was strong. Keep in mind she had only officially kicked her campaign off on July 30. But if you knew nothing about the Senate Race, you might have thought that Kentucky Democrats had been rallying around Grimes for months. There was the sense among supporters that Grimes was the only person who could defeat McConnell. It made me wonder whether the Democrats genuinely believed in Grimes, or rather, if there was so much pent-up anxiety regarding who was going to run, that Democrats were jut relieve to have one strong candidate, and therefore, were in a frenzied, celebratory mode. Another undercurrent at Fancy Farm this year was the presence of James Comer's camp. Comer, the state agriculture commissioner, had a gaggle of supporters doing laps around the venue in Comer T-Shirts. Though Comer hasn't officially declared a 2015 run for governor on the Republican side, the campaigning had already begun. Moreover, in an event that one might have thought was only about the Grimes vs. McConnell senate, other story lines - like Comer's - couldn't be avoided. And these came out especially in the speeches. Yes, the barbecue is great at Fancy Farm. But in the end, you come for the 5 minute stump speeches and the reaction of the crowd. Ferrell Wellman, the emcee of the event and host of KET's "Comment on Kentucky", called out the speakers one by one, who were sitting on stage behind the lectern. His introductions of the candidates introduced me to the sporting-like nature of Fancy Farm. It was if Wellmen was calling out the starting five players of an NBA team: "At guard, 6 feet, 6 inches, from Wilmington, NC, and the University of North Carolina . . . Michaaaaeeeellll Jorrrrrdannnn!!!!" But instead he was introducing nicely dressed, middle-aged politicians. It sounded more like, "And now, your Attorney General, from Louisville, KY, and Duke University, Jaaaaaaccccckkkkkk Connnnnnnwaaaaayyyyyyyy!!!!!" The crowd, separated by political affiliation, went berserk each time. They goaded and jeered each other, frantically waving signs and photos. The last time I remember this intensity was sitting at the Dundee Tavern watching the University of Louisville play the University of Kentucky in basketball. In fact, the crowd was so loud when Senator McConnell spoke, it was difficult to even hear him at times. But his message was clear, and it's a message that we're going to hear a lot of for the next 15 months: This election is not about Kentucky, it's about America. McConnell spent five minutes exhorting the crowd to reelect him because he is one step away from controlling the US Senate, and that means, Kentucky is one step away from having a Kentuckian controlling the Senate. McConnell kept asking the crowd whether we want to instill the US with San Francisco-minded Democrat values, or Kentucky Republican values. Grimes spoke to an equally boisterous crowd, and provided the natural counterpoint to McConnell's argument, namely: You may be a leader in the US Senate, but remind me what you've done for Kentucky these last 30 years you've been in office? How have our lives gotten any better as a result of your leadership? Grimes is making this election as much about Kentucky, as McConnell is making it about the US. How these bifurcating arguments pan out over the next year will be an interesting political study. Do Kentuckians came more about dictating the national debate, or seeing change at home? Lastly, there was Matt Bevin, the Tea Party challenger, who, according to many, gave the most electrifying speech of the event. He presented himself as a third-party candidate with lines like: "I'm not going to run to the left of Mitch McConnell; I'm not going to run to the right of Mitch McConnell. I am going to run right over the top of Mitch McConnell." Other sub-plots bounded. Why did McConnell exit the stage shortly after his speech? How close is Jack Conway to announcing his run for governor on the Democratic side? Who else will fit into this run? I anchor and discus political stories every week on WFPL, and still, I learned more about Kentucky politics in three hours walking around Fancy Farm than I have in the 11 months that I've lived in Louisville. After getting some reaction from the crowd, I began my long drive home, smelling like swine, exhausted, and stuffed with political stories I'll be thinking about for weeks. I'll be discussing them at 1:30PM Monday on-air at 89.3 or streaming at WFPL.org. So no, as I've learned, Fancy Farm is not the whimsy and fluff I had in mind, but its raucous antithesis. I've never experienced anything quite like it, which means I'll certainly be back.
Kentucky Political Staple: Barbs and Barbecue by Trip Gabriel
The New York Times 8/4/13
Fancy Farm, KY - The menu outside the Knights of Columbus hall boasted 9 tons of barbecue pork and mutton, 225 pounds of purple-hull peas and 1,400 pounds of potato salad. But it was the feast of political insults that drew hundreds to a shed nearby, where Senator Mitch McConnell and challengers on his left and right participated in a venerable Kentucky tradition - the annual Fancy Farm picnic, where candidates hurl mocking one-liners while trying to keep their composure in the face of yelling, sign-pumping hecklers. This year's event, on Saturday, was especially raucous because Mr. McConnell's bid for a sixth term in 2014 has drawn viable opponents on either flank, as well as national attention. Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is likely to be his Democratic opponent, accused Mr. McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, of being wed to obstruction. "If the doctors told Senator McConnell that he had a kidney stone, he'd refuse to pass it," she said, while the 71-year-old incumbent looked on coolly. Mr. McConnell attacked Ms. Grimes, 34, by insulting her father, a former state Democratic Party chairman. "I want to say how nice it is to see Jerry Lundergan back in the game," he said. "Like the loyal Democrat he is, he's taking orders from the Obama campaign on how to run his daughter's campaign." Mr. McConnell had hoped to avoid a Tea Party challenger in the Republican primary, but he got one last month when a Louisville businessman, Matthew Bevin, entered the race. Mr. Bevin went after Mr. McConnell on the most basic level, his virility. "Be a man," he taunted, criticizing the senator for not joining Congressional conservatives who promise to hold up a deal on the debt ceiling unless the health care law is defunded. The aroma of the barbecue pits wafted over the slugfest. It is part of a fund-raiser, including bingo and funnel cakes, for a local Roman Catholic parish, St. Jerome, in the western Kentucky hamlet of Fancy Farm. "This is a church picnic, so we have some ground rules," the MC told the audience. "No profanity, sexism or racism." Otherwise there were few holds barred by the speakers or the crowd, which unlike most political rallies was equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. With their constant jeering and sign-waving, the crowds make the event a test for political newcomers. Ms. Grimes' supporters held "Despicable Mitch" signs. The McConnell troops twirled a Janus-like sign with the face of Ms. Grimes on one side and President Obama on the other. Mr. Bevin's much smaller contingent rang bells. "Ask not for whom the bells toll, Senator," Mr. Bevin said. "They toll for you." Ms. Grimes, whose political experience is limited to a year and a half as Kentucky's secretary of state, did not stumble in the face of a "We want Mitch!" chant that drowned out much of her six-minute speech. She referred to a now infamous recording of Mr. McConnell privately comparing the campaign to a game of Whac-a-Mole, telling aides, "When anybody sticks their head up, do them out." "I will tell you," Ms. Grimes shouted, "I don't scare easy!" It has become her signature line and was echoed on supporters' placards. Although Mr. McConnell has power and prestige in Washington, polls show a tight race. The whiff of a possible upset has drawn money and attention from the national Democratic establishment, as well as the news media. His bid for a sixth term is likely to be the most high-profile contest of 2014. "Every liberal in America is out to beat us next year," Mr. McConnell said, appealing to a conservative state where Mr. Obama won only 4 of 120 counties last November. "As long as I'm in the Senate," he said, "Kentucky will have a voice instead of San Francisco and Martha's Vineyard." (As a totem of East Coast elitism, Martha's Vineyard played a recurring cameo in Fancy Farm, which is named for the fertile acreage of corn and soybeans. Another Republican speaker poked a Democratic rival for vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, demurring that he took his wife "to a weekend at Dollywood.") Mr. McConnell may look mild-mannered in his owlish eyeglasses, but he has a sharp attacking style and astute political instincts that have preserved his Senate seat for about 30 years and his role in leadership. He spent most of his speech attacking the president on coal, health care and taxes, focusing on a strategy of linking Ms. Grimes to Mr. Obama. Ms. Grimes is trying the less tested strategy of rallying Democrats by going after the Tea Party in a state that sent Rand Paul to the Senate in 2010. "I know many of you had hoped to see Rand Paul here today," she said, addressing the right side of the crowd but really speaking to the left side. "But he's spending his weekend with his loved ones, the Tea Party members in Iowa." Mr. McConnell had ardently embraced Kentucky's junior senator, to the point of hiring his former campaign manager. Mr. Paul has said he will support Mr. McConnell. But it was not enough to stop Mr. Bevin from jumping in and rallying a noisy corps of Tea Party advocates. Analysts consider a Bevin victory in the primary next May a very long shot. But his presence complicates Mr. McConnell's ability to pick off wavering Democrats by moving to the center. Mr. McConnell made the case that the state is better served because of his senate seniority. He listed achievements, including keeping areas around dams on the Cumberland River open to fishermen, which the Army Corps of Engineers had wanted to close for safety reasons. "You can't get any of those things done from the back bench," the minority leader said. He departed the picnic before Mr. Bevin spoke. There was also an exodus from the shed of his supporters in their red "Team Mitch" t-shirts. Mr. Bevin, 46, is a political unknown who runs a family bell factory based in Connecticut. He moved to Louisville in the 1990's. He proved a confident speech maker, injecting issues that have powered Tea Party upsets against Republican incumbents elsewhere. Mr. McConnell, he said, voted to rescue Wall Street banks and compromised on a tax increase this year to avoid a fiscal crisis. For a Fancy Farm novice, Mr. Bevin also showed that he knew his way around an insult, which will be needed: the McConnell campaign has begun aggressive attack ads against him. "Mitch McConnell has, amazingly, disappeared," he said. "I find that shocking. Maybe we should call him back," he said, leading a cheer of "Where's Mitch?"
Just What is the Big Deal About Fancy Farm?
Fancy Farm expects large crowd despite heat.
The Mayfield Messeger 8/4/11
Fancy Farm's historic picnic is just two days away.
Despite the current heat wave, event organizers expect to see more than 10,000 people on the picnic grounds and more than 19,000 pounds of hickory smoked barbecue for what many consider the unofficial kickoff of the fall political campaign season. "Forget the television ads, tweets, Facebook posts, text messages, opinion polls, size of the campaign war chests or unflattering You Tube videos", Political Chairman Mark Wilson said. "This is the Fancy Farm Picnic, a throw-back to the pre-technology days when the most important political strategy was face-to-face meetings with voters."
Wilson called the picnic, held the first Saturday of every August, the one tie of the year when "this squeaky clean Graves County hamlet of less than 500 people" becomes the epicenter of Kentucky politics.
Indeed, this year's lineup features a who's who of state and federal politicians, with US Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul returning from Washington for the event. However, the focal point of the political speaking will likely surround the upcoming governor's race when Gov. Steve Beshear faces off against state senator and political rival David Williams.
The governor's race has already turned personal, with both candidates taking public shots at one another. Recently, Williams accused Beshear of misleading news reporters and Kentuckians by suggesting he chose not to join President Barack Obama during a visit to Fort Campbell troops, when in fact the President chose not to invite him. Prior to that, Williams' running mate, Richie Farmer, was criticized for using state funds on an expensive hotel room.
On Saturday, when the political speaking begins at 2 PM, Beshear and Williams will have to contend with more than just each other. They'll have to contend with Fancy Farm.
"Part of the fun of Fancy Farm is not only listening to what the politicians have to say about the latest issues," Wilson said, "but having the opportunity to react with cheers, jeers, boos and sign-waving enthusiasm."
A raucous crowd during the political speaking has become a long-standing tradition for the annual picnic. Over the past century, some politicians have learned to handle the crowd, while others grow frustrated and find it difficult to speak.
Vice-President Al Gore, when he visited during his campaign with Bill Clinton in 1992, called Fancy Farm's picnic "grass-roots at its best . . . the rough and tumble politics that built this country."
As the picnic nears, Wilson provided several informational tidbits of happenings from previous picnics:
* Happy Chandler, who served as lieutenant governor, governor, US senator and baseball commissioner, took initial credit for making Fancy Farm an important political event. He said he attended the picnic in 1931 and won his race for lieutenant governor. He considered the picnic good luck and returned every year he ran for office. Eventually, other candidates joined him.
* Until 1956, the Fancy Farm Picnic was held the week before the primary.
* In 1975, Alabama Governor George Wallace, who was running for president the following year, was keynote speaker. His appearance came just three years after he was shot and paralyzed by a would-be assassin. There was a brief scare when a photographer's flash bulb exploded due to rain, and the popping sound resembled a gunshot, which prompted one police officer to pull his gun and scan the crowd for a potential terrorist.
* The 1990 picnic marked a new era when the traditionally Democratic crowd was given competition by a sizable group of Republicans, who arrived on 15 buses from as far away as Lexington. The attendance was coordinated by US Senator Mitch McConnell, who was running for re-election, and sparked criticism from Democrats.
KET Coverage of the 131st Fancy Farm Picnic
The unofficial kick-off of every election season in Kentucky is the annual Fancy Farm picnic, and KET is the only station in the state broadcasting the entire event live on television. In addition to the live coverage, there will also be a special pre-Fancy Farm Comment on Kentucky
and a post-event highlight show “Fancy Farm: Pork, Pie and Politics.”
And this year, there are so many ways to stay tuned to Fancy Farm: live television broadcast, KET Live Webcast, and Twitter coverage!
Friday, August 5: special live Comment
Ferrell Wellman will host Comment on Kentucky live from Fancy Farm. A panel of journalists will discuss the political news of the event and what’s expected the following day. This episode of Comment on Kentucky airs at 8/7 pm CT on KET and KET Live Webcast.
Saturday, August 6: Fancy Farm live
Bill Goodman and Renee Shaw will broadcast live from Fancy Farm, beginning at 2:30/1:30 pm on KET and KET Live Webcast. The afternoon’s political stump speeches will be broadcast in their entirety. Follow @BillKET and @ReneeKET on Twitter, who’ll be using hashtags #fancyfarm2011 and #electky. Goodman and Shaw will live-tweet comments, observations and developments and answer viewers’ questions via Twitter from the event. Also, follow @tweetKET for additional live coverage.
Joining them with analysis of this year’s races will be John David Dyche, a Louisville attorney and author of Republican Leader: A Political Biography of Senator Mitch McConnell, and Jennifer Moore, former Kentucky Democratic Party chair.
Monday, August 8: Fancy Farm analysis and follow-up
Goodman and Shaw will present highlights from the Fancy Farm picnic and introduce excerpts from the speeches in a special one-hour edition of “Fancy Farm 2011: Pork, Pie and Politics.” This program airs at 8/7 pm CT on KET in place of Kentucky Tonight.