Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, up for re-election next year, will share a stage Saturday afternoon with his top challengers at the always raucous church picnic known for spicy barbecue and even spicier speeches.
The event — a holdover from the days before television, when politicians had to seek out crowds to solicit votes — draws thousands of people each year to the tiny western Kentucky community of Fancy Farm and is considered a must-attend for politicians.
It will provide voters the first side-by-side comparison of McConnell and his foes — Republican primary opponent Matt Bevin and Democratic front-runner Alison Lundergan Grimes — in a charged political climate with the candidates taking turns trying to shout their speeches over jeering hecklers.
"From a purely political standpoint, it's a test for candidates," said Greg Higdon, a former state senator who helps with the picnic, now in its 133rd year. "There have been some politicians who have handled it better than others. It's not easy. I know it's tough."
A political action committee supporting Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator has raised $1.2 million since its creation in April.
Major donors to the pro-Mitch McConnell Super PAC called Kentuckians for Strong Leadership include Donald Trump, who has given $50,000, and deceased mega-donor Bob Perry, who gave $100,000. The information was found in the PAC’s most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Perry’s donation is listed as having been made June 3, which is almost two months after he died. The PAC’s treasurer told the website Politico that the wrong date was recorded due to a clerical error in the filings.
Kentuckians for Strong Leadership has so far spent nearly $400,000 in media ads supporting McConnell’s 2014 re-election campaign.
Though the election isn't until next year, the campaign is in full swing. TV ads have been running for weeks already.
One of the Fancy Farm organizers, Mark Wilson, said Bevin was confirmed as a speaker after he announced his candidacy on Wednesday. Two of Kentucky's highest-profile Democrats, Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, won't attend the event.
The political speeches are part of a church picnic that doubles as a fundraiser for St. Jerome Parish. The annual event typically draws some 10,000 people and generates about $250,000.
Political newcomer Matt Bevin has declared the time has come for Kentucky voters to oust Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.
Bevin criticized McConnell at a Frankfort press conference Wednesday for being a part of "the politics of failure" for nearly three decades. And Bevin offered himself as the alternative, describing himself as a man of the people, having grown up in a farmhouse with wood stoves for heat, a garden for vegetables, and land that provided assorted animals for meat, milk and eggs.
The Louisville investment adviser charged that McConnell "has lost touch with our state, its people and our values."
Meanwhile, the McConnell campaign released a new TV ad charging that Bevin accepted a $200,000 taxpayer bailout for companies he owns in Connecticut. The ad calls him "Bailout Bevin."
Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator is trying to reach out to Tea Party groups as he seeks another six-year term in Washington.
Mitch McConnell needs to shore up support on the Republican right in order to fend off a primary challenge next year. Sen. McConnell knew he would have a challenge from Democrats in 2014. What he was hoping to avoid was a primary challenge from a fellow Republican.
But that’s exactly what he has now, following Louisville investment advisor Matt Bevin’s entrance into the race. Bevin is officially announcing Wednesday that he will seek the GOP Senate nomination, creating a primary fight for McConnell.
McConnell isn't taking the news lying down.
Politico reports McConnell played host to the Tea Party caucus Tuesday in Washington, at a celebration honoring the birthday of former Senator Bob Dole. McConnell has had a strained relationship with the Tea Party, at first largely ignoring the movement, and then trying to mend fences when the Tea Party showed it had become a major powerbroker within the GOP.