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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.
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: