It’s been 28 years since Sen. Mitch McConnell’s first Fancy Farm, and at 81, he said it’s not his last.
But, with recent health issues, including a moment at the country’s Capitol where he momentarily lost his train of thought during a press conference, leading to other Senate members having to escort him to a nearby office, some have called into question the de facto Republican’s leadership status amongst the state party.
So, it was a surprise when Republicans told reporters early Saturday morning that McConnell planned to appear at the Graves County Republican Breakfast just hours before the throwdown at Fancy Farm — the state’s unique version of retail politics that allows competing politicians to roast each other with crowds booing and cheering.
If there were any doubts among state Republicans — or Democrats —about McConnell’s mental acuity, they were laid to rest when McConnell gave a rousing speech that the job isn’t done for Republicans, who control the state government with super majorities in the legislature, five of seven constitutional seats, both U.S. Senate seats and five of six U.S. congressional seats.
But, it’s the governor’s office McConnell also wants, and he flew into the state to rally Republicans around his message ahead of the November election.
“We owe it to the next generation of Kentuckians to finish the job this November,” McConnell said.
The night before, Democrats gathered at the Marshall County Mike Miller Bean Dinner, with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear headlining the list of speakers who are running for the state’s other constitutional seats — Agriculture Commissioner, Secretary of State, State Auditor, Treasurer, Attorney General, and Lieutenant Governor.
As the highest-ranking official in the state’s Democratic party, Beshear touted the state’s economic record, how he navigated the state through tornadoes in Western Kentucky, flooding in Eastern Kentucky, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But, even with the historic level of adversity in such a short period of time, I’m here tonight with a message of hope because I’ve never been as optimistic and excited about what’s to come in Kentucky,” Beshear said.
Further, he said the Republican party is working to sow division.
“We see the fostering of anger,” Beshear said, before using a common trope amongst politicians that “this is the most important election of our lifetime,” and pointing to the 2019 election when he defeated Republican incumbent Matt Bevin and assumed office just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We thought that race was about right versus wrong,” Beshear said. “Turns out it was about life versus death.”
Despite being in one of the most Republican states in the country, Beshear remains popular amongst both parties and is the most popular governor amongst the opposite party with 49% approval among Kentucky registered Republicans, according to a poll from Morning Consult.
In the poll, Beshear ranked fifth most popular amongst the country’s governors and was the most popular Democratic governor.
Though Beshear remains popular, Republicans seek to tie him to Democratic President Joe Biden’s deep unpopularity in the state. Biden holds only a 30% approval rating in the same Morning Consult poll.
Congressman James Comer, who is leading the investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, as the chair of the House Oversight Committee, spoke frequently of Biden and said that the positive accomplishments of the state — including a record surplus, low unemployment, and the reduction of the income tax, are from the Republican-dominated legislature.
“He’s running around the state trying to take credit for everything he has fought against the last eight years,” Comer said of Beshear, who also served four years as the state’s Attorney General before assuming the governor’s office.
It might be an arduous task for Republicans, though, to tie Beshear to Biden, according to the Morning Consult poll.
“But to Beshear’s credit, even those who dislike the president more often than not give the governor positive marks,” the poll reads.
Beshear’s opponent, current Attorney General Daniel Cameron, criticized Beshear after the Graves County Breakfast.
“You look at Mayfield — where the tornadoes occurred at the end of 2022 — and there are still buildings that aren’t back up,” Cameron said.
While Republicans try to tie Beshear to Biden, Cameron said he still supports former President Republican Donald Trump — who endorsed Cameron and was indicted this past week for election interference for his role in Jan. 6, 2021.
The charges stem from when Trump spoke to a crowd of supporters before they rushed the nation’s Capitol and attempted to prevent the vote certification making President Joe Biden president.
When asked by a reporter repeatedly if he was concerned about the indictment’s details, he said he “hoped” that Beshear would get the same question.
“I continue to support Donald Trump, and I know there are a lot of people across the Commonwealth of Kentucky that continue to support Donald Trump,” Cameron said.
Speaking of Cameron, McConnell said he met the Elizabethtown native when he was 18 as a freshman at the University of Louisville in the McConnell Scholars Program. Cameron has served as legal counsel for and is considered a protégé of the senior senator.
During the GOP primary and at an event in Northern Kentucky, Cameron worked to distance himself from the Senator at an event by saying he made his own decisions.
“I make decisions based on the law and based on our constitutional rights,” Cameron said.
In early June, after earning the Republican nomination and his campaign hiring Terry Carmack, a McConnell staffer who helped the senator on four campaigns, Cameron said all Kentucky Republicans have a home in his campaign.
“You can find a home in this campaign whether you are a pro-life Republican, whether you are a Trump Republican, whether you are someone who is a Senator McConnell Republican or Chamber of Commerce Republican, anybody, a Tea Party, a Liberty Republican,” Cameron said.
Despite questions over his health, McConnell remains the state’s top Republican and is looking to finish the job he started 28 years ago when Democrats controlled state politics — McConnell tried to tie Democrats to elitist culture instead of the pro-Union, party of the people language used in most of their current messaging.
“They turned their backs on rural America, and we’re going to turn our back on them,” McConnell said.