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.

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