Tag: kentucky election

Live from the Fancy Farm Picnic

I went back home to Kentucky to attend the Fancy Farm Picnic last Saturday. It may be the biggest political event in the state; it takes place every August, 10 miles from where I grew up, and somehow I’d never attended before. It was time. I got there just in time to hear Senate candidates Jack Conway and Rand Paul give their 7-minute speeches. (There are lots of speakers, and timekeepers are strict.) There were plenty of advocates for both candidates among the 2000 or so people watching. It’s an old Democratic area, but they’re conservative Democrats who now mostly vote Republican in federal races.

It was well over 90 degrees and humid, so both candidates handed out fans:

As I listened to the candidates, my main impression was this: Conway accused Rand Paul of being an extremist, and Paul accused Conway of being a Democrat. The question for November is which charge will stick.

Gov. Steve Beshear, introducing Conway, warmed up the attack: “[Paul] is going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our school children. He’s going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our coal miners. On the backs of our farmers. On the backs of our law enforcement officials,” he shouted. “The entire commonwealth of Kentucky — Republicans, Democrats and independents — ought to be scared to death about Rand Paul!” Referring to last year’s controversy over Conway’s calling himself a “tough son of a bitch” – it’s a church picnic, after all – and the “seven words you can’t say on television,” Paul said, “There are six more words you won’t hear Jack Conway say [on the campaign trail]: President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.”

So which do Kentucky voters dislike more: the national Democratic party’s big-government agenda or the prospect that Rand Paul might actually try to cut the size of government? In a world where everyone gets something from government, it’s not obvious. But so far Paul is holding on to a lead in the polls. In Fancy Farm, I noticed that all the Conway supporters had the campaign’s official signs and buttons, plus hand-lettered signs that had clearly been produced in campaign offices, such as this “NeanderPaul” sign that I picked up after the shouting was over:

Paul’s supporters, on the other hand, brought a lot of their own homemade signs. Conway’s supporters were more disciplined. You didn’t see any Conway supporters showing up dressed as Abraham Lincoln or a colonial soldier (though news reports say there was a guy dressed as a “neanderthal” holding the above sign), or wearing T-shirts reading “Who is John Galt?” The greater grass-roots enthusiasm for Paul has both pluses and minuses. Clearly he’s appealing to stronger currents than mere partisan politics and generating more enthusiasm. But that means he’s more at risk of supporters doing things that might embarrass the campaign.

Both candidates accused the other of “flip-flopping.” Conway’s team erected a “Rand Paul’s Waffle House” in the familiar yellow-and-black design and claimed he was waffling and flip-flopping on a number of issues. (Are waffling and flip-flopping the same thing? Not really.) Paul’s campaign handed out flip-flops labeled “cap” and “trade” to draw attention to Conway’s alleged backing away from his previous support for the “cap and trade” energy legislation.

One thing you can say about the Fancy Farm Picnic, it’s the best $10 meal you’ll ever eat – Kentucky pork and mutton, fresh-picked tomatoes and corn, and homemade pies and cakes.

And one final thought: They estimate that 15,000 people attend the picnic but that only 2,000 listen to the political speeches, which is a good reminder of reality for us political junkies. And that estimate would seem to be confirmed by my reflection after the weekend that, except for the drive from Mayfield to Fancy Farm, I drove about 500 miles in Kentucky this weekend and I’m not sure I ever saw a campaign sign or bumper sticker. The election is still almost three months away, and politics just isn’t life for most people.

Neocons Finish Out of the Money in Kentucky Race

Rand Paul’s landslide victory in the Kentucky Republican primary is being hailed as a big win for the Tea Party movement, a slap in the face to the Republican establishment, and maybe even as a harbinger of the rise of libertarian Republicanism. (Only 19 percent of Kentucky Republicans say they’re libertarians, but that’s got to be more than before the Rand Paul campaign.) It’s also a big loss for Washington neoconservatives, who warned in dire terms about the horrors of a Paul victory.

Back in March, Jonathan Martin reported in Politico:

Recognizing the threat, a well-connected former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney convened a conference call last week between Grayson and a group of leading national security conservatives to sound the alarm about Paul.

“On foreign policy, [global war on terror], Gitmo, Afghanistan, Rand Paul is NOT one of us,” Cesar Conda wrote in an e-mail to figures such as Liz Cheney, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Dan Senor and Marc Thiessen.

With an attached memo on Paul’s noninterventionist positions, Conda concluded: “It is our hope that you can help us get the word out about Rand Paul’s troubling and dangerous views on foreign policy.” 

In an interview, Conda noted that Paul once advocated for closing down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and sending some suspected terrorists to the front lines in Afghanistan. 

“This guy could become our Republican senator from Kentucky?” he exclaimed. “It’s very alarming.”

A week later, Dick Cheney himself issued his first endorsement of the campaign season to Secretary of State Trey Grayson, hardly the most promising Republican candidate of 2010. Obviously, Cheney was urging Kentuckians not to vote for Rand Paul.

David Frum kept up the pressure on his website and in national magazines, where he tossed around words like “extremist,” “conspiracy monger,” and “his father’s more notorious positions.” (That column also included the most amazing confession of political error I’ve ever seen: “many of my friends fell (briefly) victim to Lyndon Larouche’s mad ideology, which exploited those good themes to bad ends.” Say what? I never knew anyone who fell for Lyndon Larouche; I never even heard of any actual person who followed him; but David Frum had “many friends” who became followers of the nuttiest guy ever to run for president? That’s some band of friends.)

The big-government Republican establishment rallied to Grayson’s side against the previously unknown opthalmologist from Bowling Green. Late in the campaign, Grayson ran ads featuring endorsements from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Cheney, Rick Santorum, and Rudy Giuliani. That’s more raw tonnage of Republican heavyweights than you’d see on a national convention stage.

And after all that Kentucky Republicans gave a 25-point victory to a first-time candidate who opposed bailouts, deficits, Obamacare, and the war in Iraq. That’s a sharp poke in the eye to the neocons who tried so hard to block him. They don’t want a prominent Republican who opposes this war and the next one, who will appeal to American weariness with war and big government. They don’t want other elected Republicans – many of whom, according to some members of Congress, now regret the Iraq war – to start publicly backing away from perpetual interventionism.

There were plenty of winners tonight. But the big losers were the neoconservatives, who failed to persuade the Republican voters of Kentucky that wars and bailouts are essential for national progress.