Panel Rehashes Fancy Farm, Latest on Senate Race

by John Gregory | 08/11/14 9:56 AM

In the week since Fancy Farm, the political focus has shifted from western to eastern Kentucky as the U.S. Senate candidates toured coal country. Incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell made a two-day visit to the region with its congressman, Rep. Hal Rogers, while democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes visited Hazard with former President Bill Clinton.

The panel on this weekend's Comment on Kentucky reviewed those stories as well as campaign news from the 2015 state gubernatorial and 2016 presidential races.

Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader says both Senate contenders performed well at the Fancy Farm picnic, although he indicates that many observers gave Grimes a slight edge. Brammer says Grimes was better at pointing out the differences between the two candidates, especially when she highlighted her age (35), which she linked to McConnell's favorability rating (35 percent).

While Grimes made her speech about McConnell's Senate record, the Republican made his speech about President Obama's record. Lawrence Smith of WDRB-TV in Louisville says McConnell's Fancy Farm remarks continued his strategy of tying Grimes to the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. McConnell took that theme to eastern Kentucky later in the week as he touted his efforts to protect the region's coal industry from federal environmental regulations. Grimes, on the other hand, reiterated her promise to fight for coal miners and touted her endorsement by the United Mine Workers of America.

Smith says the Appalachian tours show how important the region is to both campaigns. Although he describes Clinton as not a red meat-, attack dog-type of speaker, Smith says the former president does add popularity and credibility to the Grimes campaign. Jack Brammer says that surrogates like Clinton and Rep. Rogers don't necessarily generate votes, but they do help with publicity and fundraising efforts for the respective campaigns.

An additional wrinkle in the coal debate arrived on Friday when Yahoo News reported that McConnell's wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, sits on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which gave $50 million to an anti-coal initiative in 2011. The McConnell camp responded by saying that Chao didn't join the board until 2012. But Storm says the story puts McConnell in a tricky situation since he's made his wife such a visible part of his campaign.

Watch highlights of the discussion about the U.S. Senate race.

2015 Governor's Race
Gubernatorial hopefuls also had a high profile at Fancy Farm this year. As expected, state Agricultural Commissioner James Comer announced his intention to run for the Republican nomination for governor. Comer will make his formal announcement on September 9 in his hometown of Tompkinsville.

Nick Storm of cn|2 says that with fellow Republican Hal Heiner already campaigning statewide and running television ads, Comer has to launch his candidacy so he can start raising money to counter Heiner's personal wealth.

Current speculation has first-term state Sen. Chris McDaniel joining Comer as his running mate. Storm says McDaniel would add some good things to the ticket: he's a northern Kentucky businessman who's been active in the state pension debate.

In his speech, Comer also hurled a few barbs at Democratic candidate Jack Conway. Lawrence Smith says the current state attorney general gave what he calls a "safe" speech, mostly touting Senate candidate Grimes. The bigger question is which other Democrats might challenge Conway for the nomination.

One name frequently mentioned is Daniel Mongiardo, who also attended Fancy Farm. Nick Storm reports that the former lieutenant governor says he's focused on helping Grimes win her contest, and thinks other Democrats should stay out of the governor's race until after this year's elections are complete.

Another possible candidate working the Fancy Farm crowd was Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott. Smith says the Pike County native is focused on helping to flip the state House of Representatives to Republican control this fall, but he says Scott is also not discouraging speculation that he might run for governor next year as a Tea Party candidate.

2016 Presidential Campaign
Another storyline from this year's Fancy Farm was whether Kentucky's junior Senator, Rand Paul, will run for president. Paul is building a campaign organization and traveling the country gathering support. Nick Storm says the Washington Post and New York Times both wrote positive stories about Paul's 10-stop, 800-mile tour of Iowa last week.

Jack Brammer says the senator may have to square comments he's made about foreign aid to Israel, though. During his Iowa trip, Paul said he was against phasing out support for the country, which Brammer says would seem to contradict a 2010 statement the Bowling Green Republican made about ending all foreign aid.

Watch the full Comment on Kentucky program for more on these stories, as well as discussion about arguments made before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals about the state's same-sex marriage ban, and an ethics probe of 1st District Congressman Ed Whitfield.

–The opinions expressed on Comment on Kentucky and reflected in this program synopsis are the responsibility of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of KET.