FANCY FARM, Ky. (AP) - Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford took aim at different targets in their first campaign showdown amid the political frenzy of the annual Fancy Farm Picnic on Saturday in far western Kentucky.
McConnell, a four-term incumbent, ignored Lunsford and instead lit into Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting Barack Obama and congressional Democrats. McConnell accused Democrats of showing indifference to high gas prices by blocking comprehensive energy legislation that would spur more domestic oil drilling and conservation.
"People are clamoring for a solution, but they just say, 'No, no, no,"' McConnell said.
Lunsford, a wealthy Louisville businessman, said McConnell has consistently sided with special interests and has lost touch with ordinary Kentuckians. Lunsford links the Republican incumbent with President Bush's economic and energy policies that he said have failed.
"It's time to get our country back on the right track," Lunsford said. "We can't do that by re-electing someone who wants more of the same."
Turning to McConnell supporters, Lunsford then invoked a memorable line from GOP icon Ronald Reagan. "Are you better off?" Lunsford asked. "Is the country better off today than it was six years ago. If you think so, keep on the way you are. If not, I'm your guy."
The political speeches are a high-profile highlight to the annual picnic in this Graves County hamlet, where thousands converged for the 128th edition to dig into barbecue, play games and socialize. The picnic is a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church and parish.
Sweat dripped from Republicans and Democrats who took turns blistering each other in the stifling heat at the picnic, the traditional start of Kentucky's general-election campaign.
The speeches were spiced with political theater and boisterous partisans.
McConnell and Lunsford supporters tried to outshout one another as Republicans chanted "Six More Years" and Democrats countered with "Ditch Mitch."
The commotion continued even as the candidates spoke.
A small band of McConnell supporters dressed up as oil sheiks and carried signs thanking Lunsford for massive overseas oil profits - a stunt backing up Republican claims that Democrats are against tapping into huge U.S. energy reserves.
McConnell touted his energy plan to let states seek to lift the federal offshore drilling moratorium off their coasts. The proposal also would provide incentives to develop plug-in electric hybrid automobiles and lift a ban on developing oil shale in the West.
"America's energy crisis is real," McConnell said. "But for every American problem there's an American solution. Democrats just need to get out of the way and let us get to work."
Lunsford countered that McConnell is beholden to special interests like big oil companies, taking their campaign contributions and then voting on their behalf.
"Mitch McConnell ought to hang a for-sale sign around his neck," Lunsford said.
Lunsford's faithful had their own stunts. One supporter dressed up as a dog, meant to signify that McConnell has been a "lap dog" to Bush.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved