From left, Gov. Andy Besher, master of ceremonies David Beck and Attorney General Daniel Cameron on stage at the Fancy Farm Picnic, Aug. 5, 2023. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)
FANCY FARM — As the sweltering humidity rose, Kentucky’s gubernatorial candidates turned the heat up on each other Saturday afternoon in West Kentucky.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron traded barbs and addressed a raucous crowd of supporters and naysayers during the 143rd Fancy Farm Picnic.
Fancy Farm’s political speeches laid bare what’s on the line for both Kentucky Republicans and Democrats. Winning the governor’s race would complete Republicans’ hold on state government as they already enjoy supermajorities in both the House and Senate. If Beshear wins, it could signal that Kentucky is still not as red as it seems.
A decades-long political tradition, the Fancy Farm Picnic is an annual fundraiser for the St. Jerome Catholic Church in Graves County. Saturday’s showdown was the first time Beshear and Cameron faced each other on the campaign trail.
Not a traditional debate, Fancy Farm’s political speaking as usual attracted a crowd that tests politicians by participating loudly — either in cheers or boos — as a long line of candidates for statewide office tried to be heard above the shouting from the audience. At times, it was difficult to hear as chants from partisans in front of the stage drowned out the speakers. Emcee David Beck stopped proceedings a few times waiting for the crowd to settle down.
After winning a coin toss, Cameron addressed the crowd first. His speech focused on culture war issues laced with zingers referencing conservative internet feuds, like backlash to country singer Jason Aldean’s “Try That In a Small Town” and asking Beshear if he wants to join Bud Light’s marketing team, referring to criticism the company received after it gave transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney a commemorative can of beer.
“They mock our faith, our families and our values and then try to cancel each one who disagrees,” Cameron said of Democrats.
Cameron also pointed to a blown-up version of a 2020 picture of Beshear with members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of drag performers, that someone in the crowd was hoisting.
Beshear, who had not attended the picnic since 2019, began by targeting a few fumbles of the Cameron campaign, such as backing out of Freedom Fest, an event spearheaded by former Northern Kentucky attorney Eric Deters. Media reports had highlighted racist comments by Deters.
“He has other things to do. That’s exactly what Ryan Quarles told Daniel Cameron,” Beshear quipped. Rumors had circulated that the agriculture commissioner could be a possible lieutenant governor pick for Cameron.
Beshear then turned to Democrats’ criticism of Cameron’s running mate, state Sen. Robby Mills. The Western Kentucky lawmaker backed a 2018 “sewer bill,” which was a failed attempt to overhaul pensions for Kentucky state workers, including teachers.
Beshear also criticized Cameron for being “willing to lie about a grand jury.” Cameron’s candidacy has renewed criticism of the attorney general for his investigation into the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Police killed Taylor in her apartment in 2020. Cameron’s office did not charge any of the officers, other than one officer for endangerment for shooting into a neighboring apartment. He was acquitted.
The governor, who has been on the front lines of natural disasters, including devastating tornadoes in Western Kentucky, turned to his typical campaign message of hope. He praised the resilience of local residents and touted private sector investment in the state and infrastructure development, such as the Brent Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky. He ticked off the names of new employers and the Kentucky towns where they’ve chosen to locate.
A longtime supporter of the Fancy Farm Picnic, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also addressed the crowd, returning to his home state amid concerns about his health after going into a prolonged silence and being led away by colleagues while speaking to Capitol reporters last week. The Republican brought a few jokes of his own about the governor’s race.
“I know a few things about beating a Beshear,” McConnell said. The governor’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, lost to McConnell in the 1996 U.S. Senate race.
U.S. Rep. James Comer, who represents the area in Congress and campaigned for unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial candidate and United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft earlier this year, endorsed the entire Republican ticket, who were standing behind him.
Most of Comer’s speech focused on President Joe Biden and the investigation the Kentucky congressman is helming as chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. Comer also took aim at media narratives covering the investigation.
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