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.