Senate Candidates Set For Political Showdown

Aug 3, 2013

FANCY FARM, Ky. - Like spectators to a pro-wrestling SmackDown, people have been streaming into the normally quiet western Kentucky community of Fancy Farm to see Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell face two top challengers Saturday afternoon at, of all places, a church picnic.

Don't let the venue fool you, said Libertarian leader Ken Moellman, who spoke at the event last year on behalf of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson's failed presidential campaign.

"You go into it expecting that it's going to be brutal," Moellman said. "It's more of a bare-knuckle, I'm-going-to-smack-you-down event than any other. It's a different tone. It's a different mindset."

People started arriving Friday on the grounds of St. Jerome Catholic Church, where politicians have gathered each year for more than a century for an afternoon of in-your-face stump speeches. Makeshift parking lots have been set up on grassy fields around the church grounds in anticipation of the main crowd gathering Saturday morning.

The fiery event - a holdover from the days before television, when politicians had to seek out crowds to solicit votes - draws thousands of people.

Among them this year, McConnell and his foes: Republican primary opponent Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman, and Democratic front-runner Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state. It will be the first time the three have made a joint campaign appearance, though they have been trading jabs for weeks in speeches and TV ads.

Bevin and Grimes each say McConnell has lost touch with Kentucky and become an obstructionist in Washington. McConnell refutes those claims and touts his leadership position in the Senate as vital to Kentucky's interests, particularly in standing against Obama administration policies that he considers harmful to the state.

Fancy Farm traditionally has been the place where Kentucky candidates kick off their campaigns. Newspapers, television stations and other media from across the state converge at the event, making it important not just for front-runners, but for lesser-known candidates, such as Owensboro contractor Ed Marksberry, who need to get their messages out. Marksberry, a longshot candidate who has been largely ignored, is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for McConnell's seat. He persuaded Fancy Farm organizers to let him speak Saturday, too.

Though politics is the major draw, the Fancy Farm picnic actually is a fundraiser for the tiny Catholic church that serves a sparsely populated farming community. By Saturday night, the church will have raised about $250,000, primarily from sales of picnic food, a vehicle raffle and bingo games.

Nearly every family in the parish helps out in some way, largely cooking and dishing out food that includes mainstays such as pulled pork, fresh corn and green beans. It's a major undertaking - they barbecue some 9 tons of pork and mutton and slice half a ton of homegrown tomatoes.