It’s on in the Bluegrass state.
It was a rowdy opening to Kentucky’s political season, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faced off against his Democratic challenger, Allison Lundergan-Grimes, and a tea party primary challenger Matt Bevin at the annual Fancy Farm picnic.
Staying true to the 133-year tradition of the Fancy Farm picnic’s roast-style speeches and outspoken crowds, McConnell, who faces a serious challenge in his bid to extend his already 30-year Senate tenure, took off the gloves, attacking Lundergan-Grimes’ father Jerry Lundergan for donating nearly $5,000 to Anthony Weiner’s scandal-plagued New York City mayoral campaign.
“Like the loyal Democrat that he is, he’s taking orders from the Obama campaign about how to run his daughters campaign,” McConnell said to equal parts cheers and jeers from the audience. “They told him to make a pitch on the Internet for the women’s vote and he sent a check to Anthony Weiner.”
But McConnell’s pitch for voters to send him back to Washington was more about President Obama than it was about either of his challengers. His only direct reference to Lundergan-Grimes was through her father, and he never once mentioned Bevin.
“I’ve brought Kentucky’s voice to Washington and the Obama crowd doesn’t like it,” McConnell said. “We’re not just choosing who’s going to represent Kentucky in the senate, we’re going to decide who’s going to run the Senate.
“Here’s the choice, is the Senate going to be run by a Nevada yes-man for Barack Obama who believes coal makes you sick or the guy you’re looking at,” he continued to big cheers from his supporters in the audience.
Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state and a well-connected relative newcomer to national politics, sought to make McConnell’s long tenure a liability.
“I know Sen. McConnell believes I’m not right for this job because unlike him I haven’t been in Washington, D.C., for 30 years,” Grimes said.
“But do I really need to apologize for having more government experience than Rand Paul?” she asked, referencing the state’s junior U.S. senator and tea party favorite.
Grimes and several Democratic speakers called out Paul for his absence at the day’s events.
The Kentucky Senate race has become one of the most-watched races in the 2014 election cycle, mostly because McConnell’s low approval ratings make him vulnerable to both Grimes’ challenge and a challenge from within his own party.
“There’s a reason Sen. McConnell is disliked not only by voters in Kentucky but the entire U.S.,” Grimes said. “And that is because there is a disease of dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and Sen. McConnell is at the center of it.”
Bevin, who has the support of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party that is becoming increasingly irritated with McConnell, chided McConnell for skipping his speech by leaving the event early.
“Mitch McConnell has amazingly disappeared,” Bevin said before leading a chant of “Where’s Mitch?”
“Mitch McConnell doesn’t want people to hear that they have an alternative,” Bevin said.
“I don’t intend to run to the right of Mitch McConnell, I don’t intend to run to the left of Mitch McConnell,” he said. “I intend to run straight over the top of Mitch McConnell and right to the U.S. Senate.”