What to expect at Fancy Farm, the fall campaign’s unofficial launch

Published 4:14 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2023

For nearly a century, a small town home to less than 600 people in far Western Kentucky has seen the unofficial launch of the fall campaign season.

This weekend, many of the Republican and Democratic candidates running for office this November will gather at the St. Jerome Fancy Farm Picnic in Graves County to share zingers and barbecue.

The picnic began 143 years ago as a regular Catholic church picnic and fundraiser, said Steven Elder, the event’s political chairman. It gathered people from all around the area as a sort of homecoming, Elder said.

In the 1930s, “Happy” Chandler took advantage of the crowd and visited the picnic during his campaign for lieutenant governor. He won the race, and thereafter saw the picnic as his “good luck charm,” Elder said.

Soon, other politicians followed. Eventually it became more organized and state and national politicians were invited to speak.

“It’s a throwback to the traditional stump speaking where you have candidates from both sides pitching to a crowd,” Elder said.

“You actually get to see candidates from both sides running for the same position at the same time at Fancy Farm, and so it’s great for supporters, it’s great for the candidates and it’s great for the state of Kentucky to really start focusing towards the fall campaign.”

In a typical year, the picnic attracts 10,000 people. This year, Elder expects at least 15,000 due to the upcoming governor race and a bounce back from COVID.

“This is the first time (since COVID) that both sides, Democrats and Republicans, are gonna come out in full force,” Elder said. “This is the first time the Senate hasn’t been in session. So it’s an opportunity for Sen. (Mitch) McConnell to potentially be there.”

McConnell has not yet confirmed if he will attend, but has traveled home to Kentucky and has historically supported the picnic when he can.

While there are normal picnic events Friday night, Saturday at 2 p.m CST is when the political speaking begins.

The speeches will be live-streamed on KET.

Elder said each politician will be allowed to speak from a few minutes up to six minutes – short enough to keep the energy high, but long enough to get their message across.

“Usually, the speaking lasts anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours and that’s about all people are kind of generally going to take for listening to politicians, so it flows pretty well,” he said.

Gov. Andy Beshear said at his weekly presser that he would talk about the things his administration is accomplishing during his time, including infrastructure projects, economic successes and pushes for educator raises.

“Fancy Farm is supposed to be (a) good fun time where people throw out zingers, but it also ought to be the time where people tell the commonwealth of Kentucky what they’ll actually do as governor,” Beshear said.

“What you’re going to hear from me is vision, and I’m pretty sure what we’re gonna hear from the other side is division.”

Beshear hasn’t been at the picnic in several years. He said that last year, he chose to be with flood survivors instead.

His Republican rival, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, hasn’t dropped any hints about what he’ll be speaking about.

The full list of speakers, in order, is as follows:

  • Beshear (D)
  • Cameron (R)
  • State Sen, Jason Howell (R-Murray)
  • State Rep Richard Heath (R-Mayfield)
  • U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (pending)
  • U.S. Rep. James Comer (R)
  • Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman (D, running for reelection)
  • State Sen. Robby Mills (R-Henderson, running for lieutenant governor)
  • Russell Coleman (R, running for attorney general)
  • Rep. Pamela Stevenson (D-Louisville , running for attorney general)
  • Auditor Mike Harmon (R)
  • Allison Ball (R, running for state auditor)
  • Kim Reeder (D, running for state auditor)
  • Secretary of State Michael Adams (R, running for reelection)
  • Buddy Wheatley (D, running for secretary of state)
  • Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles (R)
  • Jonathan Shell (R, running for agriculture commissioner)
  • Mark Metcalf (R, running for treasurer)
  • Michael Bowman (D, running for treasurer)

Elder said the event will be an opportunity for attendees to both engage with like-minded people and hear from the opposite side, something that doesn’t happen at all political events.

“It’s an opportunity for the candidates to directly speak with their constituents and their supporters,” he said.

“When you go to a fundraiser or a stop somewhere, maybe that person is working or they just don’t have the opportunity to come by or maybe they don’t donate because they still want to see other candidates. Fancy Farm provides that opportunity.”