PADUCAH—Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes traded partisan blows at the 134th Fancy Farm picnic Saturday.
With fewer than 100 days till the election, the two candidates gave speeches that struck starkly different tones.
First, Grimes tagged McConnell as a heartless, out-of-touch incumbent, particularly on women’s issues.
“When you finally see Senator McConnell and I on the same stage you realize only one of us believes women deserve equal pay for equal work,” she said. “If Mitch McConnell were a TV show he’d be Mad Men. Treating women unfairly, stuck in 1968, and ending this season.”
McConnell countered with a series of sarcastic punch lines that drew attention to her relative inexperience in office. The GOP leader remarked how Grimes’ trajectory was similar to President Obama’s meteoric rise.
“(Obama) was only two years into his first job when he started campaigning for the next one,” said McConnell. “Sound familiar?”
Grimes is in her third year as Kentucky’s secretary of state.
McConnell also jabbed at Grimes’ hold on foreign policy issues, highlighting recent comment about Israel’s air defense keeping militants from tunneling into their country.
McConnell repeatedly dropped President Obama’s name, tying him over and over to Grimes, a move that drew hoots and hollers from his supporters in the crowd. Coal and environmental regulations were another theme. McConnell painting Grimes as a threat to the coal industry.
Grimes had anticipated some of McConnell’s attacks.
“Senator you seem to think that the president is on the ballot this year. He’s not,” said Grimes. “This race is between me and you, and the people of Kentucky tend to hold you accountable for your 30 years of failed leadership.”
The annual picnic at St. Jerome’s parish topped well over 20,000 visitors this year, according to organizers. About 5,000 people were at the pavilion to hear from some of the two dozen public officials who attended.
Those overseeing the political speeches at Fancy Farm had lobbied the campaigns to help tone down the shouting this year.
“When you approve of something someone says, cheer. When you don’t like something somebody says, boo,” said state Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham who emceed the event. “And then shut up and let them go on with their speech. Fair enough?”
Those instructions worked in many instances, but there were still moments when frenzied attendees drowned out the speakers.
Democratic Governor Steve Beshear and Republican Senator Rand Paul each gave well-received and passionate speeches that rallied their respective parties around their favored U.S. Senate candidate.
Beshear — the first of any official or elected candidate to step to the dais — begun his act by snapping a quick cell phone selfie with McConnell.
“I’m sorry, I had just to get one last photo of the senator before Kentucky voters retire him in November,” said Beshear. “And retire him they will! Because Kentuckians are tired of the partisan bickering in Washington, they’re tired of dysfunctional government, name-calling and Sen. McConnell has been chief obstructionist for the last 30 years.”
Paul, a U.S. presidential hopeful, recited a poem in which he mocked Grimes as a liberal foot soldier for national Democrats.
“There once was a woman who came from Kentucky, who thought in politics she’d be lucky,” Paul said. “So she flew to L.A. for a Hollywood bash. She came home in flash, with buckets of cash.”
“To liberals she whispers, coal makes you sick. In Kentucky, she claims, coal makes us tick.”
The pro-McConnell crowd had more organized chants than Grimes’ supporters, and hit upon consistent themes, such as “Obama needs Grimes, Kentucky needs McConnell.”
Grimes, for her part, delivered an energetic speech. She at one point confronted McConnell about the lack of any planned debates.
“Folks I want you to take a look at the two of us up here on this stage,” she said. “If Mitch McConnell has his way, well it’s the last time he’ll be willing to appear with me. Senator I’ll be at the Kentucky Farm Bureau, and the KET debate, Beattyville and Pikeville, and you should be too.”
And with the close of the speeches, the candidates went their separate ways and ticked off one more calendar day in the run-up to the Nov. 4 election.