Well it finally happened. The gloves are off and Governor Steve Beshear is wearing the biggest target in Kentucky politics. After Saturday’s annual Fancy Farm picnic, it’s clear Republican David Williams and Independent Gatewood Galbraith are zeroing in on the incumbent and it’s about to get very ugly. Beshear had the chance to speak first at the annual shindig, and instead of the rip-snorter of a speech that is usually expected, he talked about his recent trip to visit Kentucky troops and how his heart was with them and not ready for partisan politics. Well Steve — you seemed to be the only one who felt that way.
Williams — who WAS doing his best to be likable while campaigning — attacked Democrat Beshear from the start and got a bit red-faced while doing it. He began by hammering Beshear for using the recent trip to dodge criticism for not meeting with Barack Obama. The President made the trip to Fort Campbell not long ago to meet and congratulate the Navy Seals who took down Osama Bin Laden. Beshear first claimed a schedule conflict, then later claimed he wasn’t actually invited. Beshear spent that time entertaining dignitaries at Churchill Downs instead of making the trip. Granted it WAS Oaks Day, but a chopper ride would have filled the bill. Galbraith went even further in smacking Beshear around, saying he was highly offended by the Gov’s speech. Gatewood cited his service in the Marines, and claimed Beshear was showing off false patriotism.
Who won the day and who lost? Hard to say right now. Beshear made a HUGE mistake in going milk-toast with his opening remarks, and Williams jumped — hard. But the State Senate President from Burkesville made a big mistake when he let his emotions get the better of him. Not in what he said, but in his demeanor. The more he pounded Beshear, the more he sweated, and the redder he got. Worse still — the scowl on his face became larger and much more pronounced. Normally this wouldn’t bug me at all, but Williams biggest problem in this race is likability. His poll numbers show it, and that’s been the rap on him from day one. Voters see him as a bully, and I’m not sure that speech is going to help him much.
To Williams’ credit, his running mate-Ag Commissioner Richie Farmer, used part of his time to tell us all not to be scared of ole DW because he “really is a nice guy”. Nice sentiments, but face it when you have to have someone tell us what a nice guy you really are, it tends to lose some of the sincerity. Beshear running mate Jerry Abramson is ever the nice guy even in the face of booing. But here’s a tip Jer. Telling us how much you get to travel during the campaign will not get you many votes in Western Kentucky. Particularly when your opposition continually reminds us how long you were mayor of that there big town of Louisville.
As for Galbraith? He certainly didn’t hurt his chances. His poll numbers stood at around nine percent coming in, and I imagine his take-no-prisoners speech denouncing both major party tickets appeals to lots of the undecideds. He drew serious cheers in denouncing mountaintop removal, and by touting his fiscal conservatism. Can he win? Not a chance, but if some things go his way Gatewood could finish second. A long shot to be sure, but in Kentucky politics a long shot is sometimes a good bet.
As for the numerous other down-ticket candidates? Not much to get excited about. It seems most of them realize that unless you’re facing a huge deficit, a bombastic performance at Fancy Farm will not win the election for you, but many elections have been lost and many candidates derailed at the picnic.
I was a bit surprised to see the crowds more subdued than I expected. With lower heat than usual, and a gubernatorial race on the slate, I expected more boisterous behavior. Thankfully it wasn’t the case. Except for the guy with the bullhorn who interrupted Williams mid-speech. It prompted a nice comeback from Williams who had the best heckler put-down of the day. Stealing a line from Steve Martin about remembering how his first beer affected him so it was okay.
So strap in voters! It’s gonna be a long–negative–nasty campaign from here through November.