By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
The week in Kentucky began with balmy, almost spring-like temperatures, but it’s sure to heat up on the political front by Saturday.
Friday and Saturday mark the 133rd annual Fancy Farm Picnic, a celebration, homecoming and fundraiser for St. Jerome’s Parish in Graves County about 10 miles west of Mayfield. About 15,000 are expected to show up in the small community of about 500 residents despite the typically oppressive August humidity and heat.
It’s known in political circles for the stump speaking of politicos on Saturday, which draws statewide and sometimes national attention.
The tradition is believed to have begun in 1931 when A.B. “Happy” Chandler showed up to speak to the crowds during his race for lieutenant governor. Over time, it’s become a must-attend event for statewide candidates, and this year features Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and three candidates who want his job.
On Monday, Mark Wilson, Fancy Farm political chairman, announced the speaking order for this Saturday’s stump speeches That begin at 2 p.m. CDT.
Following the invocation and welcoming remarks, Ferrell Wellman, host of KET’s Comment on Kentucky program, will introduce speakers. First up will be two local legislators, Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, and Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield.
Then McConnell gets his turn, followed by First District Congressman Ed Whitfield; and then Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes who is running for McConnell’s seat.
She’ll be followed by constitutional officers Democrats Attorney General Jack Conway and Auditor Adam Edelen and Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, all of whom are considering a 2015 race for governor.
McConnell’s Republican challenger Matt Bevin will then speak followed by Democratic primary U.S. Senate candidate Ed Marksberry.
But political junkies don’t need to wait for the weekend. There’ll be more political news in the lead-up to Fancy Farm.
On Monday, Marksberry filed suit in Franklin Circuit Court against the Kentucky Democratic Party alleging it is favoring Grimes over him in a party primary race and pointing to a KDP email in support of Grimes on the evening of July 1 when she made her original announcement that she would run for the Senate.
“This isn’t about Alison, it’s about (KDP) endorsing another candidate in a Democratic Primary,” Marksberry said, because party by-laws require the party to use its resources in equal support of primary candidates.
“I’m just asking them to follow the process and to be fair,” said Marksberry. “Alison’s a good Democrat, and I actually encouraged her to run.”
Bevin gets endorsement
Also on Monday, the Madison Project, a national conservative group headed by former long-distance running star Jim Ryun, endorsed Bevin over McConnell.
In a statement issued by the group, Ryun said: “The only way to change the lackluster leadership in the Republican Party is to replace the career politicians who lead the party. Matt Bevin is brave enough to storm the castle of the GOP Establishment and challenge the sitting minority leader, and we are proud to stand with him and with millions of conservatives who feel disenfranchised by unprincipled GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell.”
Most political observers give Bevin little chance of beating McConnell, a task that Bevin in announcing he was running called “an uphill journey,” noting that no party’s Senate leader had ever been defeated in a primary.
Nevertheless, McConnell has witnessed established Republican allies in the Senate lose Republican primaries to tea party-backed insurgents, and saw Rand Paul beat McConnell’s candidate for Kentucky’s other Senate seat in the 2010 primary.
While McConnell and Paul are now allies, McConnell seems to take Bevin seriously, having already begun running a television ad against the Louisville businessman.
Also on Monday, Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Steve Robertson confirmed he has suspended party spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper for two weeks without pay following her DUI arrest over the weekend in Lexington.
Cooper almost daily sent reporters news releases questioning aspects of Grimes’ campaign or statements. With McConnell distracted by Bevin’s primary challenge, and Cooper’s absence for a couple of weeks, Grimes may get a little breathing room to organize her campaign.
Officially that starts Tuesday, although Grimes announced on July 1 in a hastily arranged press conference that she would run.
She is scheduled to speak to supporters at 5 p.m. in Lexington on Tuesday and will be joined by Gov. Steve Beshear, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and others.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.