By Jack Brammer and Bill Estep – firstname.lastname@example.org
FANCY FARM – The candidates in Kentucky’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race set the tone for a lively election season this fall with biting stem-winders delivered to a raucous crowd at the 130th annual Fancy Farm picnic in Graves County.
Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Rand Paul leveled charges at one another that will become steady drumbeats over the next three months.
Conway described Paul’s beliefs as “risky and radical” and said Paul “waffles and backpedals when his risky ideas are exposed.”
Paul tied Conway to an unpopular President Barack Obama and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and urged Conway to stand with Pelosi on federal health care legislation and environmental legislation known as “cap and trade.”
“I say to Nancy Pelosi: ‘Come on down to Kentucky,” Paul said. “Campaign with Jack. You can talk about cap and trade and Obamacare all you want. Good luck on that one Jack.”
National attention on the race was evident by C-Span’s decision to broadcast the picnic’s speeches and the appearance of national reporters such as Time magazine’s Joe Klein to report on them.
Conway received energetic vocal support from Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear for his efforts, who proclaimed that Paul is divisive if not downright scary.
Beshear, among the fieriest of speakers at the picnic, often pumped his fists to urge the crowd to support Conway, the state’s attorney general. Beshear’s running mate in next year’s race for governor, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, did not attend the picnic.
Republicans at the picnic rallying for Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon and son of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who does not want to lose a GOP seat in his home state to a Democrat.
“When you stand with Obama and Pelosi you don’t stand with Kentucky,” McConnell said of Conway.
Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was defeated by Paul in the primary, said Paul is the only candidate in the race who understands that reducing the national debt is the biggest issue facing our country.
Paul started his speech by describing the lengths of the U.S. tax code and regulatory code – he said they are 16,000 pages and 79,000 pages, respectively – which led some Democrats in the crowd to chant “boring.”
Conway focused on Paul’s reaction to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and a Western Kentucky coal mine disaster, having the crowd chant Paul’s response that sometimes “accidents happen.”
“The accident Kentucky and the nation cannot allow to happen would be the election of Rand Paul,” shouted Conway, who trails Paul in some recent independent polls but said his own tracking shows the race tied.
Conway accused Paul of waffling on issues like taking campaign funds from members of Congress who voted for federal bailouts, favoring cuts in Medicaid except payments to doctors like himself and backpedaling on civil rights issues.
Conway’s campaign employed a “NeanderPaul Man” dressed as a cave man and a “Rand Paul’s Waffle House” to chastise Paul.
“Rand Paul plays to your fears rather than your hopes,” Conway said, who proceeded to quote former President Bill Clinton, who is popular in Kentucky:
“There’s nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what is right with America.”
Some Conway supporters have said the campaign could benefit from a visit to Kentucky by Clinton. Clinton will be in Central Kentucky Friday to speak at a fund-raiser for a speech and hearing school but no campaign appearances have been announced.
Conway said Paul’s goal was to be “the prince of cable TV,” a reference to Paul’s frequent appearances on cable news shows, particularly Fox News.
Meanwhile, Paul noted that Conway had to remove the seven curse words people can’t utter on television from his “Fancy Farm dictionary,” a reference to Conway’s description of himself at last year’s picnic that he was a “tough son on a bitch.”
The comment motivated picnic organizers to ban salty language at the event.
Paul went on to say that Conway has eliminated six more words from his vocabulary: “President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid.”
McConnell also made light on Conway’s declaration last year that he was “tough.”
“What’s really tough will be what life will be like here in Kentucky unless we send some common sense to Washington and make Barack Obama a one-term president,” McConnell said.
Beshear, who endorsed Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo in the May Democratic primary election over Conway, was enthusiastic in his support for Conway.
“Jack Conway knows how to bring people together. It looks like Rand Paul just knows how to divide people,” Beshear said, who dubbed Paul as “in the extreme.”
“Nobody really knew where this guy really stood until after the primary was over and then he escaped his handlers about three times,” said Beshear.
When Paul finally told Kentuckians where he stood on some issues, the governor said, Paul “scared the believin’ out of us all.”
Mongiardo, who decided last week to support Conway, was praised by Beshear earlier in the day at the Graves County party breakfast in Mayfield for helping to unite the party.
But Mongiardo decided to skip the Fancy Farm picnic, saying he wanted Conway to have the entire political spotlight.
Grayson chided Mongiardo for what some saw as a tepid endorsement of Conway, noting Mongiardo’s absence.
“At least I am here,” Grayson said.
The tough talk at the picnic is expected to continue through the Nov. 2 general election.