CAVE CITY — Splits in the Kentucky Republican Party were subtly on display here Saturday evening – if you knew what to watch.
Around 400 gathered at the Cave City Convention Center for the annual Barren County Lincoln Day Dinner but this one was different from past dinners.
Long-time party chairwoman Golda Walbert, along with her allies John Robert Miller and former County Clerk Pam Browning, slowly grew the party’s influence from one-time afterthought in traditionally Democratic Barren County to the party which now largely controls county government. But Walbert retired as party chair as all three began to make room for younger Republicans at the same time the tea party has become a force in the state and local parties.
The one-time traditional, establishment GOP is in the hands of more impatient, more ideological Republicans who have little patience for compromise or business as usual.
Saturday night’s featured speaker was Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin, the insurgent challenger to the ultimate Kentucky establishment Republican, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. A lot of people were here who might never have been seen at past Lincoln Day Dinners usually held at Barren River State Park. McConnell wasn’t there, instead attending another Lincoln Day Dinner in Grayson County.
Familiar faces sat at several tables, many in the back of the room and at times they seemed a bit out of place. Browning and Miller were both were recognized by speakers – but they weren’t part of the official program. New party co-chairs Mark Haines and D.T. Froedge hit on themes important to tea party Republicans – spending, debt, and government encroachment on individual decisions.
“We have an excellent chance of taking both houses in the Kentucky legislature and we have an excellent chance of taking both houses of Congress,” Froedge told the crowd. “We cannot let our state be taken down an Alice in Wonderland path to socialism.”