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Beshear, Cameron trade jabs with Ky. governor’s race front and center in Fancy Farm

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and GOP nominee Attorney General Daniel Cameron squared off during the 143rd annual Fancy Farm picnic in far western Kentucky Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023.
Hannah Saad
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WKMS
Incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and GOP nominee Attorney General Daniel Cameron squared off during the 143rd annual Fancy Farm picnic in far western Kentucky Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear squared off against Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron on the stage at the Fancy Farm picnic Saturday. The candidates traded zingers on culture war talking points and their differing visions for Kentucky.

It was the first debate of the day and was front-and-center for many attendees of the 143rd annual Fancy Farm picnic — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear squared off against his GOP challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, on the stage in front of St. Jerome Catholic Church in the small western Kentucky community. The Saturday picnic is traditionally the unofficial start of the fall campaign season in the Commonwealth.

Beshear entered the pavilion – where politicians would soon speak in front of a raucous crowd – with a string of marchers with banners and signs following. Cameron entered last, just before the political side of the picnic got underway.

In true Fancy Farm fashion, both candidates shouted their way through their speeches to avoid being drowned out by the crowd's cheers and boos.

Cameron won the traditional coin flip and chose to speak first. The Republican from Elizabethtown focused on tying Beshear to national Democratic politics, saying the governor fights for the “Joe Biden agenda” and accusing him of lying – although did not specify about what.

“I have just one question: Governor, are you auditioning for a job with Bud Light’s marketing team?,” Cameron said. “This governor lies more than a Hunter Biden tax return. But here's the truth. His record is one of failure. And it flies in the face of true Kentucky values.”

The Republican nominee hit on several culture war topics, saying Democrats are “obsessed with pronouns” and that Beshear “can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman.” Cameron also alluded to transgender rights issues that have come to the forefront in Kentucky in recent months as an anti-trans law that bans gender-affirming care for the state’s youth continues to be litigated.

“They mock our faith, our families and our values, and they try to cancel anyone who disagrees. Well, the folks of Fancy Farm have one response, governor: Try that in a small town,” Cameron said, making reference to a controversial song by country artist Jason Aldean that that critics say glorifies gun violence and conveys traditionally racist ideas.

Boos and chants rang out during Cameron’s speech. At one point, audience members began chanting “Say her name” – a reference to Breonna Taylor, whose death at the hands of police sparked racial-justice protests in Louisville and across the country. Some members of the grand jury in Taylor’s case asked the court to release recordings of the proceedings as concerns over Cameron’s handling of the case surfaced. He also did not bring any charges against the involved officers.

Beshear also touched on Taylor’s death during his speech, responding to Cameron’s assertions that Beshear has lied while in office.

“If you're willing to lie about a grand jury, he's willing to lie to you,” Beshear said.

Beshear advocated for unity among Kentuckians, saying the difference between his and Cameron’s campaigns was “vision” versus “division.”

“They're trying to pit us against each other — calling everybody names who disagrees with them, telling you it's okay to yell at or even hate your fellow Kentuckians,” the governor said. “I'm ready to prove that's a losing strategy in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Many Republicans on the stage mentioned that Democrats have lost significant support in western Kentucky in recent years. In the 2019 election that saw Beshear into the governor’s seat, Beshear didn’t win any counties west of Henderson County.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell also took the stage Saturday, despite recent health concerns that the 81-year-old Republican has faced.

The Senate GOP leader threw barbs at Beshear – raising points similar to those posed in Cameron’s campaign ads, namely Beshear’s decision to ban mass gatherings during the pandemic, including Easter services. He also referenced his win over Steve Beshear, Andy’s father, in 1996 for Kentucky’s senate seat.

“I know a little something about beating a Beshear, and let me tell you, Andy made his dad look like a Republican,” McConnell said.

McConnell did not confirm his appearance in advance until he appeared at the Republican ham breakfast Saturday morning. McConnell said this year is his 28th Fancy Farm.

Copyright 2023 WKMS. To see more, visit WKMS.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.