LEXINGTON (AP) — Kentucky’s U.S. Senate candidates will make their first appearance together at the rowdy Fancy Farm political picnic amid a turbulent national election year.
Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Democratic Lexington Mayor Jim Gray are scheduled to face the raucous crowds in Fancy Farm, where thousands of people have gathered every year since 1880 on the grounds of the St. Jerome Parish to eat barbecued pork, play Bingo and see how well politicians deliver a speech while being peppered with boos and insults from at least half the crowd.
It will be Gray’s first appearance in the shaded pavilion as the mayor of Kentucky’s second largest city is making his first bid for statewide office. Paul, finishing up his first term in the U.S. Senate, is a Fancy Farm veteran. But he skipped last year’s event so he could campaign for president — a fact Gray will try to remind him of on Saturday.
“In the tradition of Fancy Farm and their old-school political stump speaking, (Gray will) have a few things to say about his opponent and his opponent’s presidential ambitions,” Gray spokeswoman Cathy Lindsey said.
But it appears Paul will spend most of his time talking about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee whose popularity has suffered in Kentucky since she made comments about putting coal miners and coal companies out of business — remarks she later said were “mistaken.”
“Dr. Paul is excited to enjoy some barbecue and tell Kentuckians about Hillary Clinton and all of her anti-Kentucky, anti-coal friends,” Paul spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said.
The Fancy Farm Picnic is the unofficial start of the fall campaign season in Kentucky, with politicians from across the state descending on the tiny town. It’s also a crucible of sorts for politicians who rarely have to face a hostile crowd in today’s tightly controlled, often scripted campaign events. It’s a format Paul is comfortable with. In 2014, he turned his speech into a limerick about then Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes that began with “There once was a woman from Kentucky.”
Fancy Farm’s atmosphere will test Gray’s soft-spoken style of campaigning, and he won’t have many Democrats backing him up onstage. Kentucky’s lone statewide Democratic officeholders — Grimes, the secretary of state, and Attorney General Andy Beshear — are both skipping Fancy Farm this year. Beshear said he will attend his daughters’ play while Grimes said she will be spending time with her husband.
But Gray has been willing to criticize Paul, most recently accusing him of not committing to a series of debates ahead of the November election. Gray’s campaign says the mayor has committed to three debates or forums, while Paul has yet to commit to any.
“I just can’t imagine somebody who has debated as many times as he has on the national stage would not want to debate right here in Kentucky to talk about Kentucky issues,” Lindsey said.
Cooper responded by saying “no decisions have been made” and said “there will be plenty of time for debating in the fall.”
Clinton and Donald Trump will not speak at the picnic, but a pair of surrogates will plead their case for the crowd and television cameras. Ralph Alvarado, a state senator from Winchester, will stump for Trump while Kay Hagan, the former U.S. senator from North Carolina, will advocate for Clinton.