August 5th, 2013
09:47 AM ET
8 years ago

Sparks fly in Senate race at Kentucky's Fancy Farm picnic

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(CNN) -
It's one of the country's hallmark political slugfests. And on Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was dealt a large portion of the blows.

At Kentucky's annual Fancy Farm picnic, politicians from the state gather at the event hosted by St. Jerome's Catholic Church in Graves County, tucked away in the southwest corner of the Blue Grass State.

Elected leaders and candidates give short speeches before a crowd of hecklers and supporters. Audience members can shout, jeer, boo and taunt as loud as they want. Only ground rules? No profanity, sexist or racist comments. Oh, and no artificial noisemakers.

"This isn't the World Cup," the moderator said Saturday before introducing the speakers. The event was recorded by CNN affiliate KET.

From the outside, it can be seen as a daunting task: Try to get your voice heard in a roomful of people who either admire you or want to see you crash and burn, with both sides trying to drown out the other.

But the candidates for next year's U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky seemed to embrace the tradition, especially McConnell's opponents from both the left and right, who delivered slam after slam to the five-term incumbent.

McConnell vs. Grimes: Let's get ready to rumble

For his part, the senator was up first but hardly acknowledged the presence of his Democratic foe, Alison Lundergan Grimes. Instead, his most stinging remark was directed at her father, a top Democratic figure in Kentucky who has deep ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

"I want to say how nice it is to see Jerry Lundergan back in the game," McConnell said, before making a dig about Mr. Lundergan's financial contribution to Anthony Weiner's mayoral campaign in New York City.

A veteran of Fancy Farm, McConnell continued on and tried to speak above the raucous crowd, facing shouts of "Go Grimes Go!"

His key message? This campaign will be between McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, not Grimes.

"We're not just choosing who's going to represent Kentucky in the Senate; we're going to decide who's going to run the Senate," he said.

If Republicans win control of the chamber next year, McConnell would become Senate majority leader.

"It's really quite simple," he added. "Here's the choice: Obama's Nevada 'yes-man,' or a Kentuckian to run the Senate."

McConnell backers–mostly wearing red shirts and holding signs that read "Team Mitch"–gave thundering applause to the longtime incumbent. While he hasn't officially announced his re-election bid for 2014, he gave no indication he had any plans to sit this one out.

"We're going to have a great campaign. It's going to be a lot of fun," he said, exiting the stage.

McConnell stayed on stage when Grimes, the youngest female secretary of state in the country, took the podium in one of her first public speeches as the main Democratic challenger. The 34-year-old, whose grandmother sat next to her on stage, dove right in, delivering far more hard-hitting lines than McConnell.

"Let's just tell it like it is: If the doctor told Senator McConnell he had a kidney stone, he'd refuse to pass it," she said, getting a big response from the crowd.

Web wars start early in crucial 2014 Senate battle

Wearing a sleeveless red dress, Grimes looked confident and her delivery was polished, though clearly rehearsed, with a voice that seemed to carry beyond McConnell's in the boisterous environment.

With McConnell sitting just feet from her, she pulled no punches as she sought to paint the senator as the most despised lawmakers in the country. Her speech offered a preview of what will likely be sure attack lines in the coming months.

"There's a reason McConnell is disliked, not only by Kentucky but by the entire United States, and that's because there is a disease of dysfunction in Washington, D.C. And after 30 years, Senator McConnell is at the center of it," she said. "As long as he remains in Washington, D.C., DC will stand for Dysfunctional Capital."

McConnell sat still with his arms crossed, occasionally smiling.

Grimes seemed unfazed by the McConnell supporters shouting "We want Mitch!" and kept her eyes trained mostly on her supporters' side of the venue. Dropping the words "gridlock", "obstruction" and "partisanship" to describe McConnell and Washington Republicans, Grimes did not hold back in trying to define the minority leader.

The secretary of state, who was elected to office in 2011, also took time to poke fun at herself, making a joke about her lengthy name.

"Because it's such a long name, my grandmother and I decided we would do something about that," she said. "With your help, Kentucky, come January 2015, you can call me senator."

Matt Bevin, McConnell's GOP primary challenger, was also ready to pounce. But by the time Bevin took the stage, McConnell had already left the scene.

His absence clearly egged Bevin on. The candidate asked his family to come stand behind him at the podium since McConnell had left room on stage. Grimes, meanwhile, remained in place.

"Mitch McConnell has amazingly disappeared...maybe we can call him back," he said, as he started a chant: "Where's Mitch? Where's Mitch?"

Bevin, a businessman with tea party ties, hit McConnell on immigration, jobs, and financial bailouts. On Obamacare, Bevin said McConnell should stop simply talking about the pitfalls of the health care law but stand side-by-side with conservative senators who want to defund it altogether.

Primary challenger to top Senate Republican lands conservative endorsement

"Be a man. Stand up. And put your money where your mouth is," Bevin said.

The candidate, who had launched his campaign the week prior, appeared remarkably comfortable at the podium for a first-time candidate.

Conservative challenger takes on top Senate Republican

Bevin supporters rang bells throughout the speech, a coordinated move that went along with his line: "The bells toll for you, senator."

"I don't intend to run to the right of Mitch McConnell. I don't intend to run to the left of Mitch McConnell," he said. "I intend to run straight over the top of Mitch McConnell and right into the U.S. Senate."

Filed under: 2014 • Alison Lundergan Grimes • Kentucky • Matt Bevin • Mitch McConnell • Senate
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Data Driven

    "Let's just tell it like it is: If the doctor told Senator McConnell he had a kidney stone, he'd refuse to pass it"

    L-O-L! Oh man, McConnell's in serious trouble with this gal.

    August 5, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  2. Sniffit

    Get out the Beaker-B-Gone and spray away!

    August 5, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  3. Hector Slagg

    Aw, Humm,
    I think this is where the News Media is makeing a story instead of reporting a story. Sick em Fido! And may the best story win! Wake me when it's over.

    August 5, 2013 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  4. Wake up People!

    A good old fashioned klan rally.

    Mitch will win, it is KY.....

    August 5, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  5. Bill

    Goodbye Mitch.

    August 5, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  6. Sniffit

    ""Let's just tell it like it is: If the doctor told Senator McConnell he had a kidney stone, he'd refuse to pass it"

    L-O-L! Oh man, McConnell's in serious trouble with this gal."

    Haha...seriously...and you'd think he'd have no trouble in light just how very VERY short his urethra is.

    August 5, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  7. sonny chapman

    Yes Mitch,"My # 1 Priority is Make Obama a One-Termer" has an incurable case of WASHINGTON D.C. DYSFUNCTION.

    August 5, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  8. S.B. Stein

    I heard about this on NPR this morning and heard the moderator ask if everyone was going to be well behaved; the audience replied no loud and clear. That was funny. Kentucky really needs to ask if McConnell is really the person they want in the US Senate. His statement that his aim was to make Obama a one term president is so not helpful to the running of the Senate (or Congress in general), why would this be good for Kentucky?

    August 5, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  9. Rudy NYC

    The sound bite that I've heard of McConnell is pitiful. He somehow managed to cram Weiner into his tirade, sounding panicked and desparate in the process. He was literally out of breath when he finished his 10 seconds of shouting.

    August 5, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    McConnell has not done enough to stop the destruction of this country, in his Senate leadership role.

    August 5, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  11. Boo

    Who in their right minds vote for this guy (McConnell)?

    August 5, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  12. Data Driven


    Who would vote for McConnell? Kentuckians would, in order to tweak the noses of "outsiders" who are suggesting that they could do better. Pride and spite are powerful driving forces in that insulated state.

    August 5, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  13. Wake up People!

    Seriously Boo, it IS KY.......

    August 5, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  14. Bessy

    Data Driven

    "Let's just tell it like it is: If the doctor told Senator McConnell he had a kidney stone, he'd refuse to pass it"

    L-O-L! Oh man, McConnell's in serious trouble with this gal.
    He may be in serious trouble with you, but unless you live in Kentucky and can vote against him, don't count on him being in serious trouble with the people of Kentucky. They just don't seem to get it when they keep putting him back in office. Why, who knows ! I guess they just can't see past his BS and he tells them what they want to hear.

    August 5, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  15. kirk

    I thought the turtlemans name was Ernie

    August 5, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  16. EDDIE

    You think he would have enough guts to stay until the rally was over.Repubs like to dish it out but they can't take it.

    August 5, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  17. Data Driven

    Actually Bessy, my money is still on McConnell, though Lundergan Grimes is proving to be a very formidable candidate. Even if she loses, the RNC will have to spend far too much money propping up a red state guy in a deeply red state. Even a close win for McConnell is a national win for Democrats, in terms of distributing dollars to other key races.

    August 5, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  18. PaulCat

    All Americans would be better off if we had all women running this country. Starting with President Hillary all the way down to women as city mayors.

    August 5, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  19. Malory Archer

    Hector Slagg

    Aw, Humm,
    I think this is where the News Media is makeing a story instead of reporting a story. Sick em Fido! And may the best story win! Wake me when it's over.


    Why? Because it shines a glaring light on what a sad excuse of a human being is currently representing the good people of Kentucky?

    August 5, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  20. Gunderson

    Why you all want rid of Mitch. Mitch live in land of Beautiful Horses and Fast Women. Mitch want make Obama one Term something. Obama student of Vaudville. Your Money and My Brains we go places. So far we go nowhere. Mitch win, without acting. You want rid of Mitch? That horse of different color.

    August 5, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  21. JustAO

    All they have to do is replay over and over again Mitch saying his (and congressional Republicans') only priority is seeing Obama fails instead of worrying about jobs and the middle class.

    How is it a hard decision to make by Kentuckians that their senator has become unfit to govern American's lives?

    August 5, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  22. JustAO

    Anyone else here tired of middle aged white men running our country into the ground? I think it's time for the women to step up and govern since they are scientifically-proven better at empathy than men. A person is incapable of governing millions of citizens lives if they lack empathy for those citizens.

    August 5, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  23. Warren


    Sounds like a good idea as long as it's not Ann Coulter. lol

    August 5, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  24. sonny chapman

    Hey JustAO: Haven't you ever read Karl Rove's" 50.000001%Wins It" & "Fire Up Your Base" Primer on Politics? Works great for Repubs. getting elected, but not worth a darn for governing in a Democracy.

    August 5, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  25. Malory Archer



    Sounds like a good idea as long as it's not Ann Coulter. lol


    Considering she doesn't believe women should even have the right to vote I think we're safe!

    August 5, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
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