‘Clinton Country’ Welcomes Number 42 Pitching for Grimes

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes and her ambassadors want voters to know that the 35-year-old Kentucky Secretary of State is a Wendell Ford and Bill Clinton kind of Democrat, not a left-of-center Hollywood archetype ignorant to the Kentucky way of life. That message was a key takeaway from Kentucky’s first and only female Gov. Martha Layne Collins, who’s accompanying Grimes on the campaign trail.

The assertion is a rebuke of the efforts by incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell and his supporters to cast Grimes as a Pres. Obama sympathizer who’ll vote for a liberal political agenda that will further destroy the coal industry.

Her retort to those tactics: “I am the pro-coal candidate in this race,” she boisterously declared to several hundred at a Lexington fundraiser yesterday headlined by former Pres. Bill Clinton. “In 30 years, Mitch McConnell hasn’t saved or created one coal job,” Grimes added.

Jobs and worker pay are the central issues of the Democrat’s platform. Extolling the political catch-phrase of Clinton’s 1992 campaign, Grimes exclaimed, “It’s the economy stupid.”

Without providing details, Grimes told the crowd her jobs plan will grow the middle class, equalize pay for women, strengthen Social Security and Medicare, assist veterans with employment, and help students “earn degrees, not debt.”

A few minutes earlier, Gov. Steve Beshear paraphrased Pres. Ronald Regan’s punch line from his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter: “Are you better off after 30 years of Mitch McConnell?” A thunderous “no” echoed throughout the room filled with Grimes supporters. The crowd cheered again when Grimes denounced what she calls McConnell’s obstructionist tendencies. “I believe Kentucky deserves a senator whose vocabulary goes beyond the word ‘no.’”

Democrats rehashed some of their zippy zingers from last week’s Fancy Farm during Tuesday’s campaign stop at the Carrick House in Lexington. “Mitch McConnell is out of ideas, out of touch, and out of time,” said Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen, Attorney General Jack Conway, and Gov. Beshear.

With camera shutters fluttering at each opportune moment, Pres. Clinton spoke of coal miners sickened from diseases brought on by years of working underground. He talked about how he as governor and president “raised the wage,” and how Kentuckians know and appreciate the difference between a hand up and a hand out.

As Grimes and Pres. Clinton toured Lexington and later Hazard, U.S. Representative Hal Rogers, whose district encompasses coal country, sat down with Bill Goodman yesterday to talk about Sen. McConnell. Click here to learn more about their conversation.

Fire and Brimstone: Fancy Farm Picnic Viewed as Political Baptism

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo considers himself a traditionalist. In the lineage of a political family, the Prestonsburg Democrat prefers to make speeches like many Kentuckians take their bourbon: straight up, no chasers.

Known for his signature country lawyer vernacular and tailor made cowboy boots adorned with the state seal, Stumbo prefers to address political spectators at Fancy Farm without a prepared script. In fact, when he’s on the speaker’s docket, you can catch him scribbling notes on the back of a hand-held funeral home fan before he takes the podium.

Not everyone is that confident. The stakes are too high for most candidates and officeholders to risk blurting out an expletive or rambling nonsense that puts dazed looks on the faces of unrelenting partisans who’ll drown you out with synchronized chants of disapproval.

“The goal of Fancy Farm is just surviving the ordeal as a politician, going down there, going through your baptism,” Stumbo says. “You know I’ve told people that I know how the Christians felt just before they let the lions out in the arenas, because that’s the way you feel your first time on the stump at Fancy Farm”.

Style and substance will be judged Saturday as the unofficial kickoff to the general election campaign goes full tilt. Kentucky House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover believes U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s armor has been tested in his 30-year career, and that his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, would concede Kentucky interests to cow-tow to the agendas of President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid. Hoover confidently predicts at least a three-point margin of victory for the incumbent McConnell.

As the two parties offer conflicting views on what policies would make a stronger state and nation, the overall goal for both candidates is similar: more and better jobs.

I talked with Speaker Stumbo and Leader Hoover about the U.S. Senate race, the chances of a GOP takeover of the state House, and Stumbo’s gubernatorial intentions.

Be sure to join Bill Goodman and me for live coverage of all the speeches from Fancy Farm on Saturday starting at 2:30 p.m. on KET, and streaming online at KET.org/live.

Fancy Farm Picnic Is Bucket List Item for Political Junkies

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Fancy Farm is a close-knit hamlet tucked into the western portion of the state known as the Jackson Purchase. The picnic that began there in the late 1800s as a homecoming celebration and fundraiser for Saint Jerome Church assumed another identity when Democrat A.B. “Happy” Chandler became the first politician to attend when he ran for lieutenant governor in 1931. (He won that race, and went on to win two terms as governor and one term as a U.S. senator.)

Soon the nostalgia of old-fashioned political speaking with pluck and spunk became as big a draw as the barbeque, fresh vegetables, and bingo. It was a mostly one-party event until the 1980s when the Republican revolution upended the Democratic Rock of Gibraltar that was western Kentucky.

An updated stage reminiscent of a front porch will brim with current statewide office-holders and contenders hoping to make the best of their limited speaking time to wow a crowd of rambunctious spectators ready to pounce on a flubbed line or attempt to throw the speakers of their game with crass heckles and jeers.

Lobbyist Bob Babbage is no stranger to Fancy Farm, having taken the stage there during his bids for statewide office more than 20 years ago. The former Kentucky Auditor and Secretary of State says the annual affair should be on the bucket list of all political wonks. It’s an experience unique to Kentucky and America, where faith, family, food, and carnival-style politicking collide. Here’s Babbage and another former Secretary of State, Trey Grayson, outlining the stakes.

You can forgo the long drive, elbow-to-elbow crowds, and outdoor elements by watching KET’s wall-to-wall coverage of the political speeches, starting Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Bill Goodman and I will be joined by political analysts to provide exclusive, in-depth coverage. If you can’t watch us on TV, check out our video stream at KET.org/live.

And you can follow me on Twitter (@ReneeKET) for updates throughout the weekend.


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