For some in Western Kentucky, the annual Fancy Farm Picnic is about chopped mutton and pork, bingo and music.
But for the rest of the state it’s that weekend in August when politicians roll up their shirt sleeves and yell into a sea of cheers and boos.
This year’s Fancy Farm on Saturday continued that tradition of rowdiness—after tolerating one plea for civility.
The annual Fancy Farm picnic at St. Jerome's Parish is a little bit different from the rest of the events most politicians attend during a campaign.
These days, in an increasingly tweeted, snapped and streamed world, politicians prefer to deliver their messages in carefully-scripted commercials or well-rehearsed sound bites for the press.
But Fancy Farm is noisy. Chaotic. Rude. The crowd shouts over the candidates.
This year, Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin attempted to diffuse the bedlam by leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
But it didn’t work.
“Prosperity is not a Democrat thing or a Republican thing, the idea of good-paying jobs is not a Republican thing or a Democrat thing,” Bevin told the crowd, many of whom booed.
Bevin spoke about the need for a better education system and solutions to the state’s ailing pension programs.
His Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway, drilled Bevin with renewed accusations that he’s an “east coast con-man.”
According to the Bluegrass Poll released on Thursday, Conway has a slight lead over Bevin in the race for governor.
The crowd at Fancy Farm Saturday wanted red meat. And everyone else gave it to them.
Republican U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell goaded outgoing Democratic governor Steve Beshear up to the podium, presenting him a signed selfie Beshear had taken of the two during a speech last year.
“Let me tell you what I put on here, it says ‘Steve, enjoy your retirement, I’ll still be working - Mitch McConnell, majority leader U.S. Senate,’” McConnell said.
Last year, Beshear had attempted to memorialize what he said would be McConnell’s last Fancy Farm – a stunt that backfired when McConnell trounced the Democratic candidate, Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Unfortunately for those like Bevin who say they want to talk about the issues, the crowd-pleasers of the picnic are the ones who trash the opposing party’s candidates - preferably delivered turning around looking them in the eye, as state auditor Adam Edelen addressed Bevin directly at the beginning of his speech.
“Go ahead and stick your chin out, Matt, because this one’s going to hurt,” Edelen said. “Maybe this side of the aisle should put down the books of Ayn Rand and pick up the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
With Bevin refusing to attack the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway during his speech, most of the GOP’s sarcastic heavy lifting was conducted by the down-ballot candidates.
Republican candidate for auditor Mike Harmon attacked Attorney General Conway for not defending the state’s marriage ban last year.
“Just because he swore to protect and defend the state constitution, which included protecting traditional marriage, broke down crying and refused to do his job,” Harmon said.
And the biggest crowd-pleaser of all was Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones, who emceed the event. Jones managed to make fun of nearly every candidate on stage, and even one who wasn’t - Senator Rand Paul.
“So Rand, look at me, look in the camera,” Jones said. “Come back home, you’re not going to win. You’re not going to win. The crazy people are voting for Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, you’re not going to win.”
Paul skipped Fancy Farm because he was in Iowa campaigning for his run for President. He’s currently trailing in the polls.