Fancy Farm 2022: U.S. Senate, 2023 governor’s race dominate KY’s biggest political event.

·10 min read

West Kentucky was abuzz with barbecue, bingo and a bevy of candidates from both sides of the aisle vying for political office this year and next.

The 142nd annual Fancy Farm Picnic at the Historic St. Jerome Catholic Church is one of the country’s largest such events and arguably the state’s most consequential political event of the year. Often seen as a rite of passage for aspirational politicians in the state, the event featured Saturday afternoon zinger-filled speeches from statewide officeholders and hopefuls alike.

This year’s speakers didn’t disappoint.

The U.S. Senate race featured Democratic candidate Charles Booker’s supporters hectoring both his opponent Sen. Rand Paul’s wife who was speaking in his place as well as Attorney General Daniel Cameron, and Kelley Paul speaking in Rand’s stead attacking Booker himself and the Democrats’ stance on hot-button social issues.

The crowds cheer, boo and jeer as candidates deliver their speeches during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.
The crowds cheer, boo and jeer as candidates deliver their speeches during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.

Aside from some 2022 talk, everyone else’s eyes were on the looming GOP gubernatorial primary, as a growing list of candidates have stepped up to face Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in a bid to cement Republican control over the state.

Speakers this year included all statewide officeholders except Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, candidates for statewide and regional office and Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge. House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, emceed the event.

U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker speaks the crowd gathered for the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic before politicians deliver speeches in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.
U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker speaks the crowd gathered for the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic before politicians deliver speeches in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.

U.S. Senate Race: Charles Booker, Kelley Paul trade barbs

Due to the Senate session, both of Kentucky’s GOP Senators, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, could not give their scheduled remarks.

Paul’s wife, Kelley, spoke in his stead. She focused on gender politics, public safety, and digs at Booker. Other GOP candidates speaking often diminished Booker’s odds of beating Paul.

Booker, fresh off a trip to Eastern Kentucky to help with relief efforts after historic flooding in the region, tried to put a positive and unifying spin on his campaign. He also framed Rand Paul as a “clown” who doesn’t take his job seriously.

“Kentuckians show up, so that’s why it should be no surprise to anybody that Rand Paul is nowhere to be found. He’s in Washington right now trying to screw you as we speak,” Booker said. “… Today was his monthly hair appointment. That perm ain’t gonna fix itself.”

Kelley Paul went on the offensive by bringing up the fact that Booker paid himself $150,000 from his own nonprofit named after his campaign slogan “hood to the holler.”

“Maybe he should rename it ‘from the hood to the dollar,’” Kelley Paul joked.

She also fought to associate Booker closely with the ‘defund the police’ movement.

Kelley Paul also drew criticisms for controversial anti-transgender remarks, including railing against transgender women in sports and the ability of transgender people to define their own identities.

It triggered a response from 1st Congressional District candidate Jimmy Ausbrooks, who incorrectly said that he was the first openly gay person to run for federal office in Kentucky. Former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray took that distinction in his run against Rand Paul in 2016.

“I’m glad that miss Paul left. That was an insult to me and many of my friends.”

Some speakers referenced rumors that Booker had at one point considered leaving the Democratic party, which he has denied.

At a Democratic event on Friday night, Booker urged fellow party members to hold strong in their support of a progressive candidate like him.

“You may look at the political climate right now and question … whether someone quite like me could win a statewide race for United States Senate. You may question what the future holds. I don’t blame you,” Booker said. “I know how hard it’s been, and a lot of folks don’t vote. A lot of people have thrown their hands up. … If you feel cynical, I understand. Please, hear me: I need you to push through that cynicism.”

McConnell’s significance loomed large at the event, even in his absence. Osborne credited the minority leader and longtime Kentucky politician with flipping the state Republican. McConnell also gave a short video speech in absentia to Republicans at the Graves County GOP breakfast.

The crowds cheer, boo and jeer as candidates deliver their speeches during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.
The crowds cheer, boo and jeer as candidates deliver their speeches during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.

Looking ahead to 2023 governor’s race

For many GOP candidates who have announced for governor in 2023, Fancy Farm served as the biggest stage to debut their respective stump speeches.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s speech caught the particular ire of Democrats, largely for their opposition to his handling of the Breonna Taylor case.

Cameron, 36, has frequently touted his strong name ID and his experience as attorney general as proof of his bonafides for governor.

“I am the best candidate, and the only candidate that can beat Andy Beshear next Fall… They see the polls and they know the truth: when I’m the nominee, we will finally retire the Beshears from office in 2023.”

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron talks with reporters before politicians give speeches during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron talks with reporters before politicians give speeches during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.

In reference to his legal battle in support of Kentucky’s trigger law, which bans essentially all abortion in the state, he said “there’s only one candidarte that can say he has ended abortions in the state of Kentucky.” The ban is currently in effect after Cameron’s team scored a win in the Court of Appeals.

Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles opened with a dig on Beshear and a minor one for Cameron, noting that people flocked to Fancy Farm “like a moth to a flame, like Andy Beshear to giant checks, like an attorney general to the governors’ race.”

Quarles, who posted the highest amount of funds raised in his first quarter, said that he’s focused on running a “robust,” grassroots, old-school campaign.

“My campaign is going to be spent behind a steering wheel and not behind a desk,” Quarles said.

Quarles stated that 2023 would be the first year the GOP has a “deep bench” on the statewide ticket. But beating Beshear may not be guaranteed, he said, calling the current governor a formidable opponent.

The crowds cheer, boo and jeer as candidates deliver their speeches during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.
The crowds cheer, boo and jeer as candidates deliver their speeches during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.

Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, focused her remarks on separating herself from the pack, calling out Cameron and Quarles by name for allegedly not being tough enough on Beshear during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Look at these guys. They’re like the opposite of the Dos Equis beer guy. They’re the least interesting men in Kentucky politics,” Maddox said.

She closed by announcing a recent endorsement she scored: that of Northern Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie, a conservative maverick known for his contrarian stances in Washington.

Candidate for Governor Savannah Maddox speaks the crowd gathered for the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic before politicians deliver speeches in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.
Candidate for Governor Savannah Maddox speaks the crowd gathered for the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic before politicians deliver speeches in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.

GOP Auditor Mike Harmon was the first to announce a run for governor, but his campaign has yet to pick up steam monetarily.

Harmon centered his remarks on Beshear, pairing him with Biden by doing a Jeff Foxworthy-inspired ‘you might be a Beshear-Biden Democrat if’ routine.

“There aren’t many people in Kentucky who want to defend the woke and broke agenda of the current Democratic Party,” Harmon said.

State Auditor and candidate for Governor Mike Harmon speaks during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.
State Auditor and candidate for Governor Mike Harmon speaks during the 142nd annual St. Jeromes Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 6, 2022.

Granted a speaking slot due to relatively few Democrats electing to or being in a position to speak at the event, Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge spared no punches in his characterizations of the field.

He said Beshear would beat “whatever Republican gets off the Gilligans Island of the Republican primary unless Kelly Craft gets off her yacht to buy the island,” in reference to the wealth of Craft, who is married to billionaire coal magnate Joe Craft.

Osborne quipped that Elridge’s job “must be tough not having a single elected official West of (Interstate)-65.”

Talk of the day

The political buzz started early, as both parties hosted events prior to the picnic.

Jerry Sells, a retired dentist from Benton, said that he was particularly interested in figuring out more about who could face Gov. Andy Beshear in the governor’s race.

Sells said he was open to voting for any of the gubernatorial candidates who were aggressively making the rounds at the Marshall County Republican dinner on Friday night.

Top of mind for Sells was figuring out how genuine the candidates were in their anti-abortion and pro-gun stances.

“Some will say one thing and do another,” Sells said.

Trey Grayson, a former Republican secretary of state, noted when he first attended the Graves County Republican Breakfast in 2002, it was a small gathering. Now, it’s the complete opposite, he said, noting the energy of the large crowd.

“I think we need to take advantage of it as a party,” he said. “We’ve got an incumbent governor. The voters hired him once, and they have to decide to fire him. It’s a different kind of dynamic.”

Grayson noted that recent crises – like the December tornadoes in Western Kentucky and the July flooding in the east – have given the governor a chance to position himself as a leader instead of a politician.

“That’s helpful for him, because if he’s Democrat Andy Beshear, you lose,” he said. “But if he’s statesman Andy Beshear or Governor Andy Beshear, he can win.”

One Western Kentucky GOP voter, who is running a write-in campaign against Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, after being disqualified from the primary because of a signature issue, said she’s supporting Maddox for governor. Kim Holloway likes Maddox, she said, because she is “not establishment and not a RINO (Republican in name only).”

Heath, who is running for re-election to his current post and for commissioner of agriculture against a former young star within the GOP in Jonathan Shell, was emceeing the Graves County GOP breakfast.

Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft is considering a run for governor but was not present at Fancy Farm. Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, who is “strongly considering” a run was present with a team of people wearing his shirts. Eric Deters, a retired Northern Kentucky attorney, was also present for a pre-Fancy Farm GOP event.

Secretary of State Michael Adams and Treasurer Alison Ball both recently declined to pursue the governorship. Adams is running for reelection while Ball is looking to make the jump to state auditor to replace a term-limited Harmon. Both made speeches on Saturday.

Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky and 2023 GOP candidate for attorney general Russell Coleman spoke at the GOP pre-Fancy Farm breakfast touting his ties to Trump and willingness to tackle the opioid crisis.

No Democrats with significant name ID aside from Beshear have announced for statewide office in 2023 as of yet.

Comer joked at the Republican breakfast on Saturday that his Democratic opponent Jimmy Ausbrooks and candidate for U.S. Senate Charles Booker were dead on arrival.

“I’m afraid that we’ll get arrested for abuse of two corpses,” Comer said of potentially talking trash to those two.

Comer beat his last Democratic opponent by 50 percentage points and GOP U.S. Senator Rand Paul beat former Lexington mayor Jim Gray in a 2016 general election contest by nearly 15 percentage points.

But not all recent electoral news has been good for Republicans. Kansas, a conservative state, roundly rejected a recent proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot there, potentially dampening the odds of a similar amendment on the 2022 ballot passing in Kentucky. Conservatives at Fancy Farm were emphatic that Kentucky is not the same as Kansas.

Kentucky Right to Life Executive Director Addia Wuchner spoke at the Republican breakfast, encouraging attendees to voter in favor of the amendment.

“You are not voting any particular abortion program,” she said. “What you’re doing is you’re protecting the Kentucky Constitution. It says there’s no right for abortion enshrined in our constitution.”

Kentucky Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Daniel Cameron spoke at the Graves County Republican Breakfast, where GOP hopefuls gathered ahead of the Fancy Farm political picnic.
Kentucky Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Daniel Cameron spoke at the Graves County Republican Breakfast, where GOP hopefuls gathered ahead of the Fancy Farm political picnic.
U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker and others spoke at the Marshall County Democrats 25th annual Bean Dinner Friday night before Facy Farm.
U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker and others spoke at the Marshall County Democrats 25th annual Bean Dinner Friday night before Facy Farm.

One official, and one TBD. Two congressmen line up behind KY governor candidates.

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