FANCY FARM, Ky. -- Primed for Russia-related attacks from his detractors at Kentucky's premier political event, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday it's fitting for Democrats to wear "Moscow Mitch" shirts depicting the communist-era hammer and sickle.
After all, McConnell reasoned, Democrats are from the party pushing for the Green New Deal and Medicare for all.
Democrats broke into "Moscow Mitch" chants as they heckled the sixth-term Republican senator during the stump-style speaking at the Fancy Farm picnic.
It's a yearly grilling endured by leaders from both parties in the summer heat in this tiny Kentucky town. But this year, the partisan cauldron came as McConnell has come under attack for blocking election security legislation aimed at protecting the nation's political system against foreign attacks.
Before McConnell and the other speakers took the other stage, a Democratic strategist fired up his party's stalwarts by waving a "Moscow Mitch" sign to the sweaty crowd split along Republican and Democratic lines.
McConnell was ready for the attacks, firing back at his detractors during a Republican breakfast where he received a long ovation.
"It's appropriate to see a bunch of Democrats running around with communist flags on their shirts," the senator told reporters at the breakfast. "That ought to tell you something about where they want to take the country with the Green New Deal and Medicare for all. Their whole agenda would fundamentally change the country with something it's never been."
The Kentucky Democratic Party is hawking T-shirts, depicting a picture of McConnell wearing a Cossack hat with the hammer and sickle symbol and declaring: "Just say Nyet to Moscow Mitch." Buttons, stickers, and other merchandise are also available. The attacks have become a big windfall for the party, with sales reaching $350,000 since Wednesday.
Long on the receiving end of McConnell's pointed attacks, the Democrats relished a chance to go on the offensive against the senator. McConnell is up for reelection next year and has aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump.
The attacks against McConnell come after a Washington Post columnist recently criticized him for blocking election security legislation. Noting Russia's cyberintrusion on the 2016 presidential election and indications that it would try again next year, the column was headlined, "Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset."
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough quickly weighed in with the "Moscow Mitch" nickname, a moniker Kentucky Democrats say was coined by a retired schoolteacher in the state.
McConnell has likened the attacks to "modern-day McCarthyism."
During the political speaking Saturday at the parish picnic, McConnell avoided the issue. Instead, he took aim at Democratic proposals for a Green New Deal and Medicare for all. He also embraced the nickname he's given himself for blocking the priorities of House Democrat.
"They want to turn America into a socialist country," he said as his GOP supporters cheered and Democratic detractors jeered. "Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are never going to let that happen. That's why I call myself the 'Grim Reaper.' I'm killing their socialist agenda."
Democrats who spoke at the picnic mostly avoided launching Russia-related attacks against McConnell, spending most of their time lambasting Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who is locked in a tough race against Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.
During the GOP breakfast, McConnell defended efforts to stymie Russian interference in U.S. elections, saying he's "absolutely confident we're going to have a secure election in 2020."
He said 2018 was an "extraordinarily successful" election.
"The Russians didn't do any good. Much of what we did is classified, but the Russians learned their lesson what we can do if they mess with the 2020 election," McConnell told reporters. "We sent over $300 million down to the states. Much of it has not been spent yet."