That headline serves as advice for all politicians preparing to speak at Fancy Farm this weekend. Failure to heed the warning could result in serious consequences. Historians, elected officials, and the media quickly recall the names of those who were overcome by the pressure of hecklers in the crowd and the eyes of their opponents staring at them from behind.
So when the candidates for U.S. Senate brace the Fancy Farm lectern tomorrow, keeping their cool is the name of the game. National political analyst Howard Fineman believes the small picnic grounds will be brimming with journalists from across the country eager to document the spectacle on the stump.
“People will want to see Alison Grimes,” says Fineman. “They know Mitch McConnell and there won’t be much of a surprise factor, although it will be interesting and amusing to see Mitch as ‘country Mitch’ as opposed to ‘city Mitch’ and see how he handles that.”
I caught up with Fineman during a recent trip to our nation’s capital. I also talked to James Carroll, Washington bureau chief for The Courier-Journal about the Kentucky race.
The conventional wisdom is that Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican Matt Bevin have more to prove this weekend than incumbent Mitch McConnell – and the senior senator ranks as a master of political theater. My advice to office-seekers hoping to survive their six-minute speeches at Fancy Farm: BYOB (of water because hydration is key) and BYBS (bring your best speech).
Tune in Saturday for exclusive live coverage of the speeches beginning at 2:30 p.m. on KET and online at KET.org/live. I’ll be tweeting about the picnic goings-on, so look me up on Twitter @ReneeKET.
If you can’t join us tomorrow, Bill Goodman and I will recap the weekend’s events Monday night at 8 on KET.
In Virginia, it’s called shad planking – an annual springtime event that started in the 1930s near Smithfield to mark the start of the James River fishing season. Imagine the voice of the late Julia Child here: “Shad is an oily, bony fish that, on this occasion, is smoked on wood planks over an open flame. Most palates will recoil in dismay at first bite, rather than tingle in delight.”
Perhaps the main course left Virginians’ appetites unfulfilled, so in the late 1940s locals added side dishes of political gossip and grandstanding to keep mouths occupied. According to Larry Sabato, the founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, the one-day political festival has evolved into a more Republican-dominated event for which office-seeking Democrats choose to take a pass. “It’s very similar to Fancy Farm,” says Sabato referring to the annual summertime barbeque and political picnic in western Kentucky.
I suspect Fancy Farm’s menu is more of a crowd-pleaser than Virginia’s plank-o-shad. I would also venture that Kentucky’s stump bests Virginia’s when it comes to political aggrandizing before an often-rambunctious crowd eager to pounce when the rhetoric flies. Mother Nature’s forecast for this weekend’s Fancy Farm picnic calls for a good probability of storms. Yet neither rain nor hail nor dark of skies will encumber the candidates eyeing the seat of Kentucky’s senior senator, or the man himself.
Three seasons will change before we even get to the primary next May, but national political pundits expect Kentucky’s U.S. Senate contest to be the marquee race in the 2014 election cycle. The field of contenders challenging Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell widened last week with the entrance of Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin to seek the GOP nomination. On Tuesday of this week, Democrat and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes officially launched her campaign in Lexington, giving her “I don’t scare easy” speech to a crowd of nearly 1,500 supporters chanting to ditch or switch from Mitch.
I spent some time with Dr. Sabato in Virginia last week to explore why we’re already fixated on next year’s race, especially after just recuperating from last year’s ballot-boxing. Remember, this is supposedly an “off year” for elections. Yeah, right!
My interview with Sabato is just one way we’re fancying up our coverage of the 133rd annual Fancy Farm affair.
I also have interviews with James Carroll, the Washington bureau chief for The Courier-Journal, and Howard Fineman, who started his journalism career at the C-J and is now editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group and frequent political analyst on NBC and MSNBC. I don’t want you to overindulge on this political feast too early, so I’ll save the Carroll and Fineman pieces for consumption tomorrow.
By the way, tune in to KET and KET.org/live this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. for exclusive live coverage and analysis of all the speeches. Bill Goodman and I will be perched on the green John Deere wagon waiting to greet you.
The small western Kentucky town of Fancy Farm is host to the largest political picnic in America. Since 1880, the St. Jerome Catholic Church has put on an outdoor family shindig that’s a homecoming celebration for natives now relocated. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that political stump speaking was added to the picnic menu when two-term Kentucky governor and U.S. Senator A.B. “Happy” Chandler, who at the time was running for lieutenant governor, became the first politician to attend.
Kentucky State Senate President David Williams is quite acquainted with the campgrounds and the political antics that overtake them. Last year, he endured the rising mercury from Mother Nature and dished out a super-sized helping of the fiery rhetoric he’s known to deliver. In an interview to air this weekend during KET’s coverage of the 132nd Fancy Farm picnic, Williams glibly recalls the reception he received on the speaking stump last year during his unsuccessful run for governor.
“A long time people have had pitchforks and torches after me. I will tell you that no matter how poorly the crowd would treat me it was always better than the Courier-Journal, Herald-Leader, editorial boards, reporters treated me. So I actually felt like it was an improved situation for me, I had a fairer chance then.”
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo describes it this way: “It’s really a baptism by fire to some extent for political candidates, this is the first time you actually get to stand up and have people yell bad things at you and hurl insults at you and there is always that watchful eye of how you going to handle it. It gives people some idea of how you’re going to handle the rigors of a campaign and the future tests you’re going to be placed in as a candidate.”
On Saturday at 2:30/1:30pm CT you’ll hear Williams and Stumbo comment on the presidential race and whether the Kentucky House of Representatives will remain under Democrat’s control.
Our resident political commentators John David Dyche and Jennifer Moore will join Bill Goodman and I on the big green wagon under the pavilion to hash out predictions and expectations on the stump this year before the speechifying begins live on KET.
Our summer intern Kara Ferguson will be gauging reaction from young folks active in politics. You’ll see her report during our Fancy Farm 2012 recap on Monday at 8/7pm.
Kara is a fun-loving, adventurous spirit from Lexington who has strong family ties to western Kentucky. She’s been known to kick up her heels in a line dance or two down in the Jackson Purchase area.
“After spending a year living in Europe, I have come back to my roots to work as an intern at KET, says Kara. “My mother made a career for herself at KET and so it seems I am following in her footsteps. While I am no stranger to the western Kentucky area, this will be my first time at Fancy Farm, where I will be working as a field correspondent speaking with some politically active youth about important issues and how critical the youth vote is for the upcoming presidential elections,” she adds.
You can check out Kara’s first impressions about the picnic on my blog next week. In the meantime, learn more about Kara in this video. Or watch it on YouTube.