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Republicans Dunk On Beshear At Democrat-less Fancy Farm Picnic

Republicans took turns slamming Gov. Andy Beshear during the Fancy Farm picnic on Saturday, as the governor and most Democratic supporters took a pass on the annual political event due to the coronavirus.

The state’s top Republicans—U.S. senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul—were absent too, saying they had to participate in negotiations over the federal infrastructure bill.

That left a smattering of GOP “down ballot” officials as the only speakers at Kentucky’s premier political event this year.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who has hinted he will challenge Beshear in 2023, initially sounded like he would announce his candidacy for governor from the stage, but didn’t.

“My fellow Kentuckians, it is time for a new governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Quarles said.

“Unlike Andy Beshear, my daddy wasn’t governor, my dad was a farmer, and my mom was a teacher. Unlike Andy, I did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth.”

Beshear is the son of former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. Quarles grew up on a tobacco and cattle farm in Scott County.

The next gubernatorial election is about two and a half years away, but Republicans think Beshear is vulnerable and have been jockeying for the chance to challenge him.

State Auditor Mike Harmon is the only Republican candidate who has officially tossed his hat into the ring so far.

During his speech, Harmon said Democrats have given up trying to win western Kentucky voters.

“If you’re a Democrat here at Fancy Farm today, your party leaders have quite literally abandoned you. Especially if you’re a Democrat who’s pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and pro-USA,” Harmon said.

Though Democrats largely skipped the event this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Harmon touched on a broader fact—Democrats have gone through a rapid decline in western Kentucky, both through party registrations and number of people in elected office.

The 1stCongressional district, which includes much of western Kentucky, has elected only Republicans since 1994, after voting for only Democrats since the party’s inception.

U.S. Rep. James Comer, a Republican who has represented the district since 2017, said that’s because the “Democratic agenda moves further and further to the left.”

“It’s just not fair for the Republican base who go to work every day and pay their taxes to support the Democrat base that continue to live off the government,” Comer said.

According to the Food and Research Center, 13.3% of households in the 1stDistrict collect SNAP benefits. Kentucky’s 3rdDistrict, which includes Louisville and is represented by the state’s lone congressional Democrat, John Yarmuth, has 9.3% of households on SNAP. The rate is 11.9% statewide.

Comer has been mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for governor in 2023, but recentlydownplayed the possibility in an Associated Press interview.

During his Fancy Farm speech, he hinted at a different candidate—former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft and state Sen. Max Wise.

“There are two names I think everybody in Kentucky is going to be hearing a lot about all across Kentucky in 2023. And those are Ambassador Kelly Craft and my very good friend State Senator Max Wise, from Campbellsville,” Comer said.

Craft was the headliner at a pre-Fancy Farm picnic Republican event and said she was “seriously considering” a run for governor,according to the Courier Journal.

The fairgrounds in Fancy Farm, which sometimes attract more than 10,000 attendees, were noticeably less-populated during this year’s picnic.

Without the normal trade of insults and jokes, the traditionally raucous crowd in western Kentucky was subdued.

And the mostly-Republican audience left the Democratic “side” of the speaking pavilion empty to highlight the absence.

Steve Farmer, a Republican from Murray, attended the event for the first time and didn’t realize he was on the “wrong” side of the pavilion.

“You got the wrong guy here. I’m no Democrat at all,” Farmer said.

He said he was happy organizers held the event despite the resurging virus.

“It’s nice. Good to see all the families out here. Nobody’s worried about being next to each other, that’s nice.”

After Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced they wouldn’t attend the Fancy Farm picnic this year, Louisville Democrats said they would skip as well,instead hosting a vaccination clinicat a union hall in Jefferson County.

Fancy Farm picnic organizers hosted their own vaccine clinic with the help of the Graves County Health Department.

Jodi Stamper, a registered nurse with the department, said a few people came to get vaccines during the event.

Overall, she said not many people were seeking the vaccine this summer after an initial crush of requests. She said that’s changing now with the onset of the delta variant.

“We’ve had a big rise in people coming in and getting vaccinated. And I think it’s because we’re in the red zone in Graves County now. Cases have been rising in our county and surrounding areas. I think that has definitely made people think twice about it,” Stamper said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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