Politics

The Fancy Farm picnic is famous for its bombastic political speeches and rowdy crowds, but Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin tried something different on Saturday.

He tried to stay above the fray.

During his first Fancy Farm speech, Bevin criticized the tone of the other speakers and audience, saying that the raucousness further divides Republicans and Democrats.

“The one thing that discourages me, however, about this process is that we literally are celebrating the very worst elements of the political process,” Bevin told the crowd at the beginning of his speech.

“We are celebrating our divisions and we are doing it in a childish way that. frankly, does not resolve any of the issues that we face.”

Bevin then led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and spoke about the need for a better education system and solutions to the state’s ailing pension programs.

Jack ConwayJoseph Lord | wfpl.org

Jack Conway

Beforehand, his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway, drilled Bevin with accusations that he’s an “East Coast con-man.” The claim was borrowed from Bevin’s Republican opponents, who used the phrase during the Louisville businessman’s failed tea party-backed challenge to now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“He says he got to Kentucky as fast as he could, and I don’t blame him. Heck, I’d be running too if all I had behind me was tax delinquencies and bailed-out businesses,” Conway said.

Nearly all of the Democratic candidates for statewide office recycled attacks delivered by McConnell and his supporters prior to the senator’s 2014 primary victory over Bevin.

Phrases like “Bailout Bevin” and accusations that Bevin was a pathological liar who doesn’t pay his taxes on time were peppered throughout the Democrats’ speeches.

McConnell now endorses Bevin and stumped for him, however briefly, during Fancy Farm and at a GOP breakfast the morning before the picnic.

“If you want a candidate with better ideas, vote for Matt Bevin,” McConnell said. “If you want the candidate with better hair, vote for Jack Conway.”

Nearly all the Republican candidates for statewide office compared Conway and the Democratic ticket to President Obama, playing off Obama’s unpopularity in the state.

“If you’re with these guys, you’re voting for an Obama-loving, EPA-supporting, job-shirking liberals who will continue running Kentucky into the ground,” said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the Republican candidate for attorney general.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear used the majority of his last Fancy Farm appearance as governor to deride Bevin.

Matt BevinJ. Tyler Franklin

Matt Bevin

“He wants to take our state back to the 19th Century,” Beshear said. “The bottom line: Matt Bevin is woefully unprepared to be governor.”

According to the Bluegrass Poll released Friday, Conway has a slight lead over Bevin, 45 to 42 percent, but the lead is within the poll’s margin of error.

(Photo credit: J. Tyler Franklin/Louisville Public Media)

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.