KET Legislative Coverage

Five Takeaways from Comment on Kentucky's Fancy Farm Preview

by John Gregory | 08/02/14 1:03 AM

The journalists on Comment on Kentucky took their show on the road this weekend, traveling to Graves County for the annual Fancy Farm picnic. With the summer sun setting in the background, and the smell of barbeque wafting through the air, the panel discussed what lies ahead for the politicians who will speak at this year's event. Here are five take-aways from their conversation.

1. McConnell Pulls Ahead
For the first time in a Bluegrass Poll, Sen. Mitch McConnell leads over his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. The survey released earlier this week shows McConnell ahead by 2 points. Even though that's within the poll's 4-point margin of error, it continues a slow but steady increase for the incumbent.

Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader attributes the rise to Republicans who supported Matt Bevin in the GOP primary returning to the senator. He says pro-McConnell PAC advertisements about coal are starting to impact Grimes' polling numbers as well.

Despite moving into the lead, McConnell still only pulls 47 percent of likely voters contacted for the survey. Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service says that has to concern the GOP.

"This man is the minority leader of the U.S. Senate, he built the Republican Party in Kentucky, he's a five-term incumbent, and we're in August and he can't get to 50 percent in the polls? That's a danger sign for any incumbent," Ellis says.

2. Grimes and Women
Even more curious is the fact that support for Grimes among females is, according to Youngman, "evaporating." In February, the Bluegrass Poll gave Grimes a double-digit lead among women voters. Now she leads McConnell by a single point.

Joseph Gerth of the Louisville Courier-Journal says Democrats must have known something was wrong because just days after the new poll was released, the Grimes camp launched an ad attacking McConnell's votes on legislation regarding equal pay and violence against women.

While the cause behind the exodus of female voters is unknown, the potential result is more certain. Ronnie Ellis says Grimes doesn't have a shot at winning the race unless she can bring a substantial percentage of women back into her column.

3. Bang for the Advertising Buck
All the money being spent on both sides in the race don't seem to be having much impact - yet. Gerth says McConnell and his allies have spent millions attacking Grimes on coal, yet the senator only has a 4-point lead on the issue. Meanwhile despite numerous Democratic attacks on McConnell about jobs, Grimes only leads by 4 points on that issue. And the candidates poll evenly on Medicare.

Same Youngman points to another troubling figure for Grimes in the latest Bluegrass Poll: about of third of voters don't know enough about her to form an opinion of her. He says that means both candidates are in a footrace to define her. Youngman contends if Grimes uses her ad budget to tell voters who she is and what she stands for, she stands a much better chance of winning.

4. The Fancy Farm Effect
Ellis calls Fancy Farm a crucible that politicians must survive to have successful campaigns. That means the primary goal for any candidate speaking at the picnic is don't screw up. With thousands of onlookers ready to pounce on any gaffe, and video cameras recording every word for use in future campaign ads, Gerth recommends that politicians don't try to do too much in their Fancy Farm speeches.

"I have never in my life seen a candidate come to Fancy Farm and win because of what they said or did," Gerth says. "But I have seen a couple of candidates who maybe lost or at least had their campaigns side-tracked for a while by what they've done here."

Remember the 2009 speech by that "tough SOB" Jack Conway?

5. No Microphone for Heiner
Despite the national and even international attention on the Senate race, the 2015 race for Kentucky governor will be another Fancy Farm storyline. Democratic Attorney General Conway is scheduled to speak (and new rules require him and the other candidates to keep their language clean), while Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is expected to announce his intention to run for the state's highest office.

But one person who won't be speaking at this year's picnic is GOP candidate Hal Heiner. Ronnie Ellis says Fancy Farm rules state that the speakers must either be current constitutional officeholders or candidates running for election in the current year. Since the Louisville businessman meets neither of those qualifications, he was not invited to participate.

But Ellis says Fancy Farm organizers have granted two exceptions to that rule: Senatorial candidates Rand Paul in 2009, and Matt Bevin in 2013, both of whom got to speak a year ahead of schedule.

Although Heiner won't get a turn at the lectern, he will be working the Fancy Farm crowd. Sam Youngman jokes that since Heiner just contributed $4 million of his own money to his campaign, Heiner could afford to build his own pavilion in western Kentucky and call it Fancier Farm.

Watch the full Comment on Kentucky program to see more on what to expect from this year's Fancy Farm picnic.