The crowd in 2013 was packed in.Signs for challenger Bevin and supporting coal shared same space.
(Isle of Palms SC, August 6, 2013) - We've attended the Fancy Farm Picnic for the political speaking virtually every year since 1985. Over those years, we've watched the politics of the Picnic mirror the politics of our country. The object has gone from listening to drowning out. In Washington they call it gridlock.
Senator McConnell should take credit for changing the political program from a heckler vs. speaker contest to an NCAA Final Four chant fest. The Senator has over the years orchestrated the political stump speak into a shouting match. Not that facing hecklers was any fun - but they could be drowned out, outsmarted or ignored.
In the early Eighties, conditions were primitive. Two small bleachers, one on the far left of the stage, occupied by the Democrats and other on the far right occupied by what was once a miniscule Republican contigent. The speakers' podium was more akin to a flatbed trailer than to the stage complete with fans, sound system and multiple stairways (including a handicapped ramp at the back). Reporters sat on the grass that ran right up to the stage. Everyone baked in the August heat.
There were some memorable speakers. One of the best was Wendell Ford. He seemed to enjoy heckling. Ford gave back as good as he got from the crowd. McConnell in earlier years was the best of the Republican speakers at answering hecklers. Like Ford, the Senator could whip out some pithy one liners.
Then came the buses. Unable to find enough Republicans in the Purchase "way back when" McConnell's team bused in supporters. Everyone had their own t-shirts and signs.
The Democrats followed suit and the attendance race was on.
To accommodate the crowd, the speaking areas was concreted and roofed.
Then the demonstrations when partisans dressed in everything from animal costumes to prison garb paraded before the grandstand, putting on their own versions of morality plays. Fancy Farm organizers banned the demonstrations after a couple of years as too distracting.
A few years ago, we reported that the GOP had a cheer team that directed crowd chants. The goal had changed from listen to the speaker and challenge what he/she was saying to drown out their voices completely.
This year, the crowds were balanced between Republicans and Democrats. Tea Party activists supporting their candidate for the GOP nomination were also in evidence. The cheer team was back, wearing red "Team Mitch" t-shirts and standing facing away from the speaker's podium to direct their audience participation.
Less organized Democrats also had their cheerleaders, some of whom chose to cheer at inoportune times - like during the Graves County Pioneer Awards. That got them one of the few rebukes handed out to any group during the day. Even the Tea Party bell ringers, clearly in violation of "no noisemaker" rule escaped the ire of Ferrell Wellman, the master of ceremonies.
20 13 will be known as the biggest Fancy Farm Picnic in history, a record most likely fall in 2014.
It should also be known as the year that Kentucky showed the world that politics in the Bluegrass State is a contact sport.
For which the senior Senator from Kentucky deserves a great deal of credit.
Or is it blame?