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Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs: the Art of Attack Ads at the 2012 Fancy Farm Political Picnic

Fancy Farm Picnic Ought twelve more signs than people

(Fancy Farm, KY. August 4, 2012) -  At moments, there seemed to be more signs visible than people in the politically charged audience. Of course this effect was just that, an illusion of space, message, passion and political agenda. And illusion was king for the day at this 2012 Fancy Farm Picnic.

Each year, the party faithful gather for the world’s largest political debate and picnic. In the 1970s, speakers actually stood atop a cut off tree stump about 3 feet wide. This tree stump was at the front of the picnic yard. Usually some 3,000 to 5,000 people would gather to eat barbecue and/or to listen and root for their respective party candidate.

Now, some 40 years later, with 10,000 to 15,000 people in attendance, the speaking dynamics have changed. There now is an ultra modern podium within a grandstand that seats 70 to 80 speakers. Large 4 foot fans keep the air moving during those awkward times when the heat index goes over 100 to 105 degrees.  The media now is corralled in its own space for TV cameras and the working press where each reporter has a direct power plug for his or her laptop computer.

Instead of having to stand out under the blazing sun, or maybe be lucky enough to capture a seat on the hot bleachers, the audiences now can sit under a large metal building roof with the sides open for air flow and watching the speakers. The space in front of the speakers stand holds about 2,000 to 3,000 people.

The mechanics of the political debate have changed and become more modern. What has not changed is the dynamics of message delivery. Before 1980, speakers came with a few staff or friends and blasted each other from party to political party.

The election of Mitch McConnell to Senator in 1984, the future of speaking at Fancy Farm would change.

Cheerleaders distributed signs, led chantsThroughout the1990s, McConnell interjected an element of “political street theater” to each year’s Fancy Farm political speaking. Usually young men dressed in some political theme or message waded into the seated crowd and railed against President Clinton and the Democratic Congress. This made for great TV news clips.

By 2012, Mitch McConnell had perfected his attack machinery for Fancy Farm. His basic attack would consist of:

(1) Busing in some 50 to 100 young Republicans from central Kentucky to serve as attack ground troops.

(2) Professional staff serving as crowd control, chant coordinators and message on target cheerleaders.

(3) Three to five word attack messages spelled out on “homemade” card- board signs

(4) A well trained team of hecklers for going after targeted Democratic speakers

(5) Attack scripts where the group captains and cheerleaders could coordinate their signs against the verbiage and text of the targeted liberal Democratic speaker. This was the right word or message held up at the right time for maximum impact.

The strategy for maximum impact was very simple. The basic goal was to eliver the message in a very loud offensive manner in order to :

(1) Gain instant crowd response

(2)  Project the message into range of print media cameras and position for the greatest range of good TV camera shooting and

(3) Hit a home run when the message delivery would shock the candidate speaking or have a TV camera catch the facial expression of shock and disgust of the targeted speaker.
McConnell’s strategy was also to be the attacker at every level at Fancy farm. He made sure the Republicans had the best crowd communications equipment and props. The best the Democrats could do was to fight a hard holding action with their own handmade signs.Dems also brought signs

Time is not on the side of the attacker at Fancy Farm. In 2013 and 2014, senatorial politics and the rumblings of the next series of statewide political races will bring out many forces who want to take Mitch McConnell down.

 Mitch is King for now. He has made a career of cultivating political enemies, many who no doubt will be waiting for him in 2013 at Fancy Farm.

It will be high political theater to watch them attack Mitch at his own game with their army of attack ads.  


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