McConnell “has said that I am a cheerleader for our president, but I am as much of a cheerleader for our president as our senior senator is a Chippendale dancer,” Grimes said Saturday morning after a breakfast with local county Democrats. “I don’t agree with the president on everything. I’ve said that time and time again.”
The Fancy Farm Picnic isn’t just any political event. Heckling is encouraged. So are costumes, although the crowd included just a couple tea party members in full Revolutionary gear, and one flashy Uncle Sam. Politicians are lucky if they can get one point across to the voters in front of them. Instead, they spend most of the time roasting their opponents or members of the other party, to the delight of the politically charged audience. There are a few rules: No profanity. Nothing racist or sexist. No bullhorns or amplifiers.
“Be considerate of the people around you,” the moderator begged. “This isn’t the World Cup.”
Organizers say this year’s turnout was one of the largest they have seen in years. Hundreds showed up, most wearing T-shirts for “Mitch” or “Alison.” Many were out-of-towners who could not name most of the local officials sitting on the stage, a group that included a mayor from a nearby town, judges, law enforcement officials and the coroner. Dozens arrived early to stake out seats in the open-air pavilion where the political speeches are held. Meanwhile, the locals were off touring a newly renovated historic elementary school, purchasing barbecued pork and mutton by the pound, filling in bingo cards or playing carnival games, including one that involved throwing dimes into teacups.
McConnell and Grimes were the biggest attractions Saturday afternoon — and the crowd quickly thinned out as soon as they finished speaking. McConnell and his wife also disappeared before two additional Senate candidates addressed the lingering crowd: Ed Marksberry, a Democrat who has sued the Kentucky Democratic Party for its early and strong support of Grimes, and Matt Bevin, a wealthy Louisville businessman who has gained tea party support and will likely challenge McConnell in May’s primary.
Bevin, an Army veteran, has spent most of his career in the financial industry, but he recently turned around his family’s struggling bell-making business that’s based in Connecticut. Bevin’s supporters, far outnumbered in the crowd, rang bells emblazoned with the words “Let Freedom Ring.”
Grimes gave Bevin a warm welcome, asking the crowd to applaud the man who would challenge McConnell. And Bevin took a pass at criticizing Grimes, saying that there would be more than enough time for that next year in the general election. Bevin then laid into McConnell, who wasn’t there to hear it.
“Why are you leaving already, with all of your supporters?” Bevin asked. “Apparently, the bus wants to beat the crowds. But the fact of the matter is, Mitch McConnell doesn’t want people to actually hear that they have an alternative.”