FANCY FARM, Ky. (AP) - Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell
and Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford took aim at different
targets in their first campaign showdown Saturday amid the
political frenzy of the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in far western
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 he said would spur more domestic oil production
"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
"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
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.
One common theme was an effort to link the Senate candidates
with their national leaders.
Republican Sen. Jim Bunning lumped Lunsford with Obama and
congressional leaders whom he said are opposed to making coal a
prominent part of the push for energy independence.
Kentucky is one of the nation's top coal producers.
Bunning is an advocate for turning coal into liquid fuel, a
proposal that Lunsford has embraced on the campaign trail. Still,
Bunning said Lunsford is out of step on energy issues.
"Don't be fooled," Bunning said. "Bruce Lunsford, Barack
Obama, the rest of the Washington, D.C., liberals, they are on the
wrong side of this issue."
Bunning was still on the attack when a bluegrass band struck up
a tune, drowning out Bunning to signify he had used up his allotted
time at the podium. That brought a cheer from Democrats.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said McConnell, his old rival,
"ought to look in the mirror" when searching for someone to blame
for high gas prices. Beshear, who lost a Senate race to McConnell
years ago, said the Republican senator and Bush have "been in bed
with the big oil companies for the last eight years and failed to
get us an energy policy."
Beshear also linked McConnell with Bush policies he said favor
"They've been trying to divide us into the haves and the
have-nots," the governor said. "They want to be the haves, and
they want everybody else to be the have-nots."
McConnell associated himself with presumptive Republican
presidential nominee John McCain, though the two have been on
opposite sides on some issues, most notably campaign-finance
Republicans expect McCain to easily carry Kentucky in November,
and hope that translates into more down-the-ticket support for GOP
candidates. Obama was trounced by Hillary Rodham Clinton in the
state's May primary, and Obama has spent little time campaigning in
The speeches were spiced with political theater and boisterous
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 touts an energy plan that includes opening the
strategic petroleum reserve, providing a gas-tax holiday, tapping
oil shale reserves, developing alternative energy and requiring oil
companies to drill on millions of acres under lease. Lunsford has
said he supports more oil drilling, but said it should be done
selectively to minimize the environmental impact and to have the
quickest impact on supplies.
Lunsford said Saturday 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"
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)