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Matt Bevin, Andy Beshear pull no punches at Fancy Farm political picnic

Candidates for Kentucky governor address crowd of partisans amid dueling chants of “Four More Years” and “Throw Him Out”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FANCY FARM, Kentucky (CFP) — Kentucky’s August political ritual, the Fancy Farm picnic, is known for tasty barbecue, hot weather and barbed comments coming from politicians on the stage.

But the nastiness went into overdrive Saturday amid highly contentious governor’s race between Republican Governor Matt Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, with both men — and their supporters — making it abundantly clear just how much they do not like each other.

Bevin speaks at Fancy Farm; Beshear works the picnic crowd

The only moment of unity came when Bevin ended his remarks by asking the crowd to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Democrats obliged — and then went right back to heckling the commonwealth’s controversial chief executive with chants of “Throw Him Out.”

Republicans on the other side of the picnic pavilion responded with “Four More Years” and “Daddy’s Boy” — a reference to the fact that Beshear’s father, Steve, served as governor before Bevin.

Note: Videos of Bevin, Beshear at Fancy Farm follow this story.

Beshear’s campaign — buoyed by teachers, state employees and other groups angered during Bevin’s tenure — turned out more signs and a somewhat larger crowd. Republicans, however, accused Democrats of busing in non-Kentuckians from across the Ohio River in Illinois and Indiana to bolster their ranks.

“Andy Beshear may have won the sign battle today, but you will lose the war in November,” promised State Rep. Richard Heath, a local GOP legislator who warmed up the crowd for Bevin.

Among the Democrats’ signs was a giant cutout of the head of Republican Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton, whom Bevin tossed from his ticket and with whom his administration touched off an ugly feud by firing members of her staff.

The Fancy Farm picnic, a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church, draws thousands of partisans from across Kentucky to the town of 500 on the far western side of the state. The church has hosted the event on the first Saturday in August every year since 1880, and it has become a ritual for ambitious politicians across the commonwealth

As Bevin has throughout the campaign, he sought to use national political issues as a wedge with the conservative Kentucky electorate, beginning his remarks by noting that the picnic raises money for a Catholic church and then displaying a poster from a recent Beshear fundraiser hosted by the owner of the state’s last remaining abortion clinic in Louisville.

“The only collusion that has ever happened in Kentucky is the collusion between this attorney general and the abortion industry,” said Bevin, who criticized Beshear — who supports legal abortion — for refusing to defend in court abortion restrictions passed by the Republican-controlled legislature.

The governor said the issue to be decided by voters in the November election is “which side are you on?”

“This should not be a difficult decision. It’s a function of whether you stand for America and American principles or whether you stand for socialism,” the governor said. “Do you stand with Donald Trump as the president of America, or do you stand with The Squad?,” a reference to four far-left Democratic congresswomen who have drawn Trump’s Twitter ire.

Beshear then followed Bevin to the stage to continue the strategy he has pursued throughout the campaign — to make the election about Bevin and his tenure in Frankfort, rather than Trump or national hot-button issues. He offered no response at all to the governor’s digs on the abortion issue.

Beshshear began by thanking Bevin “for finally showing up” to face him and then adding, “I guess we’ve got to thank the Koch brothers, too, for letting him,” a reference to the conservative mega-donors who have supported the governor.

“I guess they didn’t tell him Fancy Farm wasn’t one of their fancy resorts,” Beshear said.

Beshear called Bevin “reckless and erratic” and said “he never takes responsibility” for his decisions. He called the governor “more show pony than work horse” and said he had “left us a lot of manure.”

“The only thing we’re shoveling out of Frankfort this fall is you,” he said, as Bevin looked on impassively.

Beshear said the race comes down to four “critical” issues — fixing the financial problems in the state’s pension system, supporting public education, creating well-paying jobs and protecting health care. “And on every single one of them, Matt Bevin is wrong,” he said.

The attorney general also didn’t pass up the possibility to remind the crowd about what has become the most controversial moment of Bevin’s tenure as governor, in April 2018, when he claimed “somewhere in Kentucky” a student had been sexually assaulted or “ingested poison” because schools closed when teachers called in sick to protest pension changes at the Capitol.

“Matt Bevin thinks our teachers are ignorant thugs. I think you are amazing and selfless,” Beshear said, adding that if he is elected, teachers “will always be respected, you will never be locked out of your Capitol, and you will always have a seat at the table.”

The fall race in Kentucky will be a test of whether Trump’s popularity in Kentucky, which he won by 30 points in 2016, will be enough to save Bevin, who was ranked as the nation’s most unpopular governor in a recent Morning Consult poll. In Kentucky, 55 percent approve of Trump’s job performance; by contrast, 52 percent of state voters disapprove of Bevin’s performance, including 37 percent of Republicans.

Trump is expected to travel to Kentucky in the fall to campaign with Bevin, who attended the president’s rally last week in Cincinnati, just over the Ohio River.

Kentucky is one of three Southern states electing governors in 2019, along with Mississippi and Louisiana.

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Bevin’s remarks at Fancy Farm:

Beshear’s remarks at Fancy Farm:

Democrats taunt Mitch McConnell with Russia signs, chants at Kentucky political picnic

Crowd chants “Moscow Mitch” and waves Russian flags at Fancy Farm event

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FANCY FARM, Kentucky (CFP) — In a sign that the derisive nickname recently attached to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be taking hold in the political zeitgeist, a boisterous crowd of Democrats greeted him with chants of “Moscow Mitch” and waved Russian flags Saturday during his appearance at Kentucky’s famous Fancy Farm political picnic.

Robert Kellums lampoons Mitch McConnell at Fancy Farm picnic

Kentucky Democrats, who have been raising money by selling Russian-themed merchandise targeting the Senate leader, kept up the pressure at Saturday’s picnic, attended by a who’s who of Bluegrass politics, with shirts and signs connecting McConnell to Russia in the wake of his decision to derail election security bills in the Senate.

A popular poster on the picnic grounds showed McConnell in a Russian military uniform, above the tagline “Spread the Red, Comrade.” One woman was even sporting a Russian fur hat in the 90-degree heat.

Note: Video of McConnell’s remarks at Fancy Farm follows this story.

“That’s a rookie mistake from someone who’s not a rookie,” said Robert Kellems from Hancock County, who posed for photographs with a cartoon he was carrying showing McConnell as a turtle with an onion-dome shell. Kellems also noted the turnabout at play, pointing out that “the president seems to think name calling is OK.”

McConnell — who earlier in the week had pushed back against the “Moscow Mitch” gibe as “McCarthyism” — did not address the controversy in his remarks to the picnic, as the Democrats on hand booed and chanted throughout. He did gesture toward the protestors when he noted that “Washington liberals” angry with his role in pushing through Trump’s Supreme Court picks “responded by targeting me.”

Noting that he is the only top leader in Congress not from New York or California, McConnell told the crowd, “I’m the guy who sticks up for middle America and for Kentucky.”

“[Democrats] want to turn America into a socialist country. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are never going to let that happen,” he said. “That’s why I call myself the Grim Reaper — I’m killing their socialist agenda.”

McConnell also took a shot at his most high-profile Democratic opponent in his 2020 re-election race, referring to Amy McGrath as “Amy McGaffe” over her recent rocky campaign rollout in which she first said she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and later reversed herself.

McConnell then joked that McGrath, who did not attend the picnic “sends her regrets. She’s still working up an answer on Brett Kavanaugh with her friends at MSNBC.”

McConnell supporters wearing “Team Mitch” shirts warmed up the crowd by parading through with giant cutouts of Kavanaugh and President Trump’s other Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, to be greeted with waves of the “Moscow Mitch” chant.

McGrath cited a previous commitment for not attending the Fancy Farm picnic. If she had, she would not have gotten the chance to address the crowd because under the rules for the event, only elected officials and candidates running for state offices in 2019 are invited to speak.

The picnic draws thousands of partisans from across Kentucky to Fancy Farm, a town of 500 on the far western side of the state that has hosted the event on the first Saturday in August every year since 1880.

The picnic is a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, which was founded by Catholic settlers in the 1830s.

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Democrats taunt Mitch McConnell with Russia chants at Kentucky political picnic

Crowd chants “Moscow Mitch” and waves Russian flags at Fancy Farm event

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FANCY FARM, Kentucky (CFP) — In a sign that the derisive nickname recently attached to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be taking hold in the political zeitgeist, a boisterous crowd of Democrats greeted him with chants of “Moscow Mitch” and waved Russian flags Saturday during his appearance at Kentucky’s famous Fancy Farm political picnic.

Robert Kellums lampoons Mitch McConnell at Fancy Farm picnic

Kentucky Democrats, who have been raising money by selling Russian-themed merchandise targeting the Senate leader, kept up the pressure at Saturday’s picnic, attended by a who’s who of Bluegrass politics, with shirts and signs connecting McConnell to Russia in the wake of his decision to derail election security bills in the Senate.

A popular poster on the picnic grounds showed McConnell in a Russian military uniform, above the tagline “Spread the Red, Comrade.” One woman was even sporting a Russian fur hat in the 90-degree heat.

Note: Video of McConnell’s remarks at Fancy Farm follows this story.

“That’s a rookie mistake from someone who’s not a rookie,” said Robert Kellems from Hancock County, who posed for photographs with a cartoon he was carrying showing McConnell as a turtle with an onion-dome shell. Kellems also noted the turnabout at play, pointing out that “the president seems to think name calling is OK.”

McConnell — who earlier in the week had pushed back against the “Moscow Mitch” gibe as “McCarthyism” — did not address the controversy in his remarks to the picnic, as the Democrats on hand booed and chanted throughout. He did gesture toward the protestors when he noted that “Washington liberals” angry with his role in pushing through Trump’s Supreme Court picks “responded by targeting me.”

Noting that he is the only top leader in Congress not from New York or California, McConnell told the crowd, “I’m the guy who sticks up for middle America and for Kentucky.”

“[Democrats] want to turn America into a socialist country. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are never going to let that happen,” he said. “That’s why I call myself the Grim Reaper — I’m killing their socialist agenda.”

McConnell also took a shot at his most high-profile Democratic opponent in his 2020 re-election race, referring to Amy McGrath as “Amy McGaffe” over her recent rocky campaign rollout in which she first said she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and later reversed herself.

McConnell then joked that McGrath, who did not attend the picnic “sends her regrets. She’s still working up an answer on Brett Kavanaugh with her friends at MSNBC.”

McConnell supporters wearing “Team Mitch” shirts warmed up the crowd by parading through with giant cutouts of Kavanaugh and President Trump’s other Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, to be greeted with waves of the “Moscow Mitch” chant.

McGrath cited a previous commitment for not attending the Fancy Farm picnic. If she had, she would not have gotten the chance to address the crowd because under the rules for the event, only elected officials and candidates running for state offices in 2019 are invited to speak.

The picnic draws thousands of partisans from across Kentucky to Fancy Farm, a town of 500 on the far western side of the state that has hosted the event on the first Saturday in August every year since 1880.

The picnic is a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, which was founded by Catholic settlers in the 1830s.

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McBattle 2020: Amy McGrath will run against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky

Race pits retired Marine fighter pilot with fundraising chops against the most powerful Republican in Congress

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LEXINGTON (CFP) — After nearly unseating a sitting Republican congressman in 2018, Democrat Amy McGrath has set her sights on a much bigger target in 2020 — the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The retired Marine fighter pilot announced July 9 that she will challenge McConnell next year, setting the stage for a marquee Senate battle with national implications that will submerge 4.5 million Kentuckians in a sea of negative advertising.

McGrath announces Senate race on Twitter

McGrath pulled no punches in her opening campaign video, saying the senator “was elected a lifetime ago and has, bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise … a place where ideals go to die.”

“There is a path to resetting our country’s moral compass, where each of us is heard,” she said. “But to do that, we have to win this.”

McConnell’s campaign responded in kind, launching a website. “WrongPathMcGrath.com,” and posting a video on Twitter featuring comments McGrath made in her 2018 race, including saying that “I am further left, more progressive than anybody in Kentucky” and comparing her feelings after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 to how she felt after seeing the towers fall on  9/11.

“Welcome to the race, Amy,” read the McConnell campaign’s tweet atop the video.

McGrath’s decision to take on McConnell was a win for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democratic leaders who had been recruiting her for the race. But she will face the most formidable force in Kentucky and national politics, who easily swatted away both primary and general election challenges in 2014.

McGrath, 44, who grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs in northern Kentucky, is a Naval Academy graduate who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine fighter pilot. After retiring in 2017, she returned to Kentucky to seek the 6th District U.S. House seat against Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr.

She raised more than $8.6 million for that race, thanks in part to a video about her life story that went viral, and dispatched a better-known candidate in the Democratic primary before losing to Barr in November by less than 10,000 votes.

Her decision to run for the Senate is good news for Barr, who won’t face a rematch. He has yet to draw another major Democratic challenger.

McConnell, 77, is seeking his seventh term in the Senate; when he was first elected in 1984, McGrath was just 9 years old. He has led Senate Republicans since 2007 and became majority leader in 2015 after the GOP took control.

McConnell, a frequent object of wrath from Trump partisans and some Tea Party groups, has drawn a GOP primary challenge from former State Rep. Wesley Morgan, from Richmond, who has said McConnell “embodies everything that is perverted in Washington D.C.”

However, it is unlikely Morgan — who endorsed a Democrat for his House seat after losing a Republican primary in 2018 — will be able to mount a substantial primary challenge against McConnell, who in 2014 swatted away a much more serious challenge from now-Governor Matt Bevin.

In 2014, Democrats had high hopes of unseating McConnell with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. But in the end, McConnell won by 15 points.

Given McConnell’s stature and McGrath’s fundraising prowess, the 2020 race is likely to feature an avalanche of outside advertising in a small state with just two large urban areas and four television markets.

In 2014, McConnell and Grimes spent a combined $50 million, or about $11 for every man, woman and child in the commonwealth. And those figures don’t include spending by outside groups.

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Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin busts a rhyme in new campaign attack

Bevin mimics rap style to blast Democrat Andy Beshear for getting fundraising help from Tim Kaine

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — The querulous contest for Kentucky governor has featured a bumper crop of snide comments and personal inventive between two men who treat each other with ill-concealed contempt. But the race has now descended to a completely new level of weird.

With awkward Republican rap.

In an effort to criticize Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear for accepting fundraising help from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, Tim Kaine, Republican Governor Matt Bevin posted a video in which he busts into rhyme rap style, albeit without a soundtrack:

“Tim Kaine, are you serious? You think the voters of Kentucky are delirious?”

Bevin continues by noting that “a couple of years past tense, he debated with our man Mike Pence.”

“Well, he might tell you he debated, but he got obliterated, dominated, annihilated, all his weak ideas eviscerated.”

Then, after including an infamous clip in which Clinton bragged about putting coal miners out of business, Bevin says Kaine “clearly hates Kentucky, but Little Andy thinks he’s lucky, so he had him send this letter. Must have thought that it was better than Hillary, or maybe Bernie, or maybe Nancy, or maybe AOC [U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez].”

The governor concludes: “If he thinks these folks will get him over the hump, good for him. I’d rather work with Donald Trump.”

Asked for comment by the Lexington Herald-Leader, Beshear’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, threw down.

“Once again,” Hyers said, “Matt Bevin has embarrassed both himself and Kentucky.”

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Insight: Are the politics of Obamacare changing in the South?

Cracks are starting to show in the wall of Southern opposition to Medicaid expansion

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

After Obamacare made its way through Congress in 2009, triggering the Tea Party rebellion, Republican-controlled Southern statehouses became a redoubt of opposition to what critics saw as meddlesome socialist overreach.

ChickenFriedPolitics editor Rich Shumate

When, three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration couldn’t force states to enact a key Obamacare provision — expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income residents — most Southern states took advantage of the decision and didn’t.

Today, nine of the 14 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are in the South, leaving more than 2.3 million low-income Southerners who would qualify for Medicaid without health care coverage, according to researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But there are some signs that the blanket opposition to expanding Medicaid in the South may be retreating, albeit slightly and slowly.

Louisiana and Virginia expanded Medicaid after electing Democratic governors in 2017. In Arkansas and Kentucky, where expansion passed under Democratic governors, it has endured despite their replacement by more skeptical Republicans.

In Florida and Oklahoma, petition drives are underway to put expansion on the ballot in 2020, doing an end-run around recalcitrant GOP leaders. And in Mississippi, a Democrat is trying to use expansion as a wedge issue to end a 16-year Republican lock on the governor’s office.

In states with expanded Medicaid, low-income people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $17,000 for an individual — can get coverage. In states without expansion, the income limit for a family of three is just under $9,000; single people are excluded entirely.

Most of the singles and families who are not eligible for traditional Medicaid don’t make enough money to get the tax credits they need to buy insurance on the Obamacare insurance exchanges. According to estimates from Kaiser, 92 percent of all Americans who fall into this coverage gap live in Southern states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, including nearly 800,000 people in Texas, 450,000 in Florida, 275,000 in Georgia, and 225,000 in North Carolina.

The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion; states must pick up the rest. Republican leaders who oppose the idea have balked at making a financial commitment to such an open-ended entitlement, which Congress could change at any time.

But that argument didn’t hold in Virginia after Democrats campaigning on expansion nearly took control of the legislature in 2017. When expansion came up for a vote, 18 House Republicans who survived that blue wave joined Democrats to pass it.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who issued an executive order on his first day in office to expand Medicaid, is now running for re-election touting that decision; voters will give their verdict in October.

In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood is also making expanded Medicaid the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign this year, arguing that his state, with the nation’s highest poverty rate, is cutting off its nose to spite its face by refusing to extend coverage to people who would benefit from it.

In Arkansas and Kentucky, where Democratic governors managed to push through expansion in 2014, the Republicans who replaced them have left the programs essentially intact, although they have fiddled at the edges by imposing premiums and work requirements on recipients. (Federal judges have blocked those changes.)

Die-hard Obamacare opponents have not been able to scuttle the program in either state — even in Arkansas, where the program has to be reauthorized annually by a three-fourths majority in both houses of the legislature.

In Florida and Oklahoma, supporters of expansion — including groups representing doctors, nurses and hospitals — are trying to put constitutional amendments expanding Medicaid coverage on the ballot in 2020.

Those ballot measures will be a key test of whether the public mood is more sympathetic to the idea of expansion than are the states’ conservative leaders, who have argued that the program is unaffordable and discourages people from seeking employment to secure health care.

However, the strategy of pursuing ballot initiatives is of limited use in the South because among states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, only Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi allow the public to put measures on the ballot via petition. Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina do not.

In Florida, the ballot measure will also need to get approval from 60 percent of the voters to pass.

The question to be answered this year and next is whether the fiscal and philosophical arguments against expansion will hold against the argument that low-income Southerners — rural and urban, black and white — deserve health care coverage and will benefit from it, in spite of its association with Obamacare.

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Bluegrass feud: Kentucky lieutenant governor cries foul over dismissal of staff

Jenean Hampton’s power struggle with Matt Bevin’s administration accelerates since she was dumped from his re-election ticket

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FRANKFORT, Kentucky (CFP) — Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton has fired off an angry letter demanding that Governor Matt Bevin‘s administration stop firing members of her staff, as the relationship between the state’s two top political leaders continues to deteriorate.

Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton

“In the future, you are not to execute any personnel action involving my staff unless you have my express, written permission,” Hampton said in a letter to Troy Robinson, the head of the governor’s Office of Administrative Services, which was obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

On May 30, Robinson’s office, which oversees human resources for state executive officers, terminated Hampton’s deputy chief of staff, leaving her with just one staff member.

The lieutenant governor then took to Twitter to ask for prayers “as I battle dark forces.”

The firing marks that second time Hampton has seen one of her staff members fired without her assent.

In January, her chief of staff, Steve Knipper, was fired when he filed to run for secretary of state. She tried without success to rehire him by issuing her own executive order.

The reasons for the latest firing remain unclear; Bevin told reporters he was not aware of the staffer’s termination and did not know the reason for the firing.

The personnel dispute is the latest sign of a deteriorating relationship between Bevin and Hampton, who was vaulted to the No. 2 position in Kentucky politics after he selected her as his running mate in 2015.

Earlier this year, Bevin announced he was dumping Hampton — the first African American to serve in a statewide constitutional office — from his ticket in favor of State Senator Ralph Alvarado..

He offered no explanation for the switch other than to say he chose not to run with Hampton “because I chose to run with Ralph Alvarado.”

Hampton, 61, a former Air Force captain from Bowling Green, was a favorite of Tea Party groups, who had lobbied Bevin to keep her on his ticket.

Kentucky is one of 13 states where candidates for governor select a running mate, rather than electing lieutenant governors separately.

The duties of the lieutenant governor are limited to participation on several state boards and taking over in the event a governor cannot continue in office. The lieutenant governor does not preside of the State Senate, as is the case in 26 other states.

In her letter to Robinson, Hampton said she “did not advise or authorize you to terminate employment” of Adrienne Southworth, her deputy chief of staff.

“I was not consulted in this action, and I fail to understand how my staff can be terminated without discussing matters with me, their immediate supervisor,” she said. “Neither you nor anyone other than myself is positioned to determine if the services of my staffers are needed or not.”

Hampton demanded that Southworth be reinstated and that she be provided with the reasons behind her termination.

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