- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

FANCY FARM, Ky. The Democratic Party ruled this state before Mitch McConnell was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984. He has since led Republicans to near-dominance.
Registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, but conservative Democrats have given control of the state Senate, both U.S. Senate seats and all but two congressional districts to the GOP.
As Mr. McConnell faces his fourth election campaign, Democrats privately concede that it is unlikely that they will knock out the Republican heavyweight come November.
In 18 years and three terms, Mr. McConnell has become a powerful force in Washington politics, leading the fight against campaign finance reform. For the folks back home, he secured committee seats important to his constituents, including the Appropriations Committee, which allows him to direct millions of federal dollars to the state.
"Kentucky has an all-star in Mitch McConnell," says Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican.
"He's heading for the political hall of fame, and without a doubt, he is the most powerful man [Kentucky] has had in Washington since Alben Barkley was vice president" under President Truman, Mr. Bunning said.
Mr. McConnell's Democratic opponent, Lois Combs Weinberg, has banked on the popularity of her father, the late Gov. Bert T. Combs, to oust Mr. McConnell.
Mrs. Weinberg has criticized Mr. McConnell for voting against minimum-wage increases and in favor of privatizing Social Security, and she accuses him of protecting corporate special interests and ignoring public schools.
"I am my father's daughter; I'm a mother; I'm a grandmother, and you won't have to worry about me doing the right thing for all of our children," Mrs. Weinberg said.
While the Combs name is revered in the state's Eastern Highlands, it carries little weight in the far Western reaches, where former 1st District Rep. Tom Barlow nearly defeated her in the May primary.
Mrs. Weinberg won by just more than 1,200 votes and spent little of the $1.4 million she raised. Mr. Barlow spent less than $6,000, mostly on gas and stamps, campaigning throughout the state in a 10-year-old Ford minivan.
Now Mrs. Weinberg has $1.5 million and Mr. McConnell $5.2 million, according to the June campaign finance reports.
Mrs. Weinberg conceded after the surprisingly close race that her campaign needed to work harder and build support in Western Kentucky. Then came her next test: The Fancy Farm Picnic, the state's premier political event, where politicians make their case directly to the people.
Politicians have made the pilgrimage to Fancy Farm, a tiny parish in Graves County, for 122 consecutive years on the first Saturday in August. The day of picnicking and political speechmaking is hosted by St. Jerome's Catholic Church and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-held and largest picnic, drawing 10,000 people.
Mr. McConnell and Mrs. Weinberg were the headliners at last weekend's event, which also included candidates for the 2003 gubernatorial and 2004 Senate races.
The rhetoric from the politicians and heckling from the audience were as hot as the 117-degree heat index.
Heckling the politicians is an integral part of the picnic's colorful history and is planned by campaign supporters weeks in advance. The result resembles the British House of Commons, only louder and with Southern accents.
Mr. McConnell described the event as "equal parts carnival, barbecue picnic, church social and political theater a grand Kentucky tradition."
"This is the best political theater in America," Mr. McConnell said to the thousands who gathered last Saturday.
Mr. McConnell is clearly the front-runner, but before taking the stage, he said he is not taking victory for granted.
"I'm not overconfident at all. I don't own this seat, and I expect to work hard to keep it," Mr. McConnell said.
As Mr. McConnell criticized Democratic policies under President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, a supporter wearing a rubber Gore mask walked around the front stage area reserved for demonstrators. "Mr. Gore" carried a sign thanking Mrs. Combs for helping him fight against Kentucky farmers, coal miners, gun owners, autoworkers and pro-life families.
Mr. McConnell took credit for delivering nearly $1 billion in disaster aid to farmers and funding for law enforcement and hospitals.
"Now, to the cynics who deride these federal investments as pork that doesn't help Kentucky families: If earmarking and bringing home $500 million a year for hardworking Kentucky families is a crime, then I plead guilty," Mr. McConnell said.
Mrs. Weinberg, whose supporters were dressed in green bags labeled "Moneybags McConnell," said her opponent is tied to Enron and other corporate scandals.
"In this election, I want you to remember just eight words, 'Moneybags Mitch for the rich; Lois for everybody,'" Mrs. Weinberg said.
"I will not be in the pockets of America's corporations. I care more about Main Street than Wall Street Kentucky families are my special interest," Mrs. Weinberg said.
Touching on the third rail of Kentucky politics in this conservative community, Mrs. Weinberg told the cheering crowd she is pro-gun and has kept a shotgun under her bed for 30 years.
She even challenged Mr. McConnell to a backstage shooting match with rifles, two bales of hay and paper targets.
The clear front-runner, Mr. McConnell never acknowledged Mrs. Weinberg's presence; nor did he mention her name, leaving the mudslinging to Mr. Bunning, a former Hall of Fame pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies.
Asked whether he was ready for the boisterous audience, Mr. Bunning responded: "53,000 fans in Yankee Stadium you think I can't stand the heckling? I've been heckled by experts."
Mr. Bunning labeled Mrs. Weinberg the "10-million-dollar woman."
"She's a mini-Enron with 13 different natural-gas companies and real-estate holdings on the East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast and the Caribbean," Mr. Bunning said.
He also criticized Mrs. Weinberg for owning a vacation home in the Caribbean named "the Halcyon" and said her stock holdings, which she called "minuscule," totaled $800,000.
"I guess when your luxury vacation home in the Caribbean has its own name, when you've got more natural-gas wells than Enron has accountants, then $800,000 seems a little puny," Mr. Bunning said.
Mrs. Weinberg told the Lexington Herald-Leader that she and her husband worked hard to buy the house and that it is a personal investment.
And asked later whether he would accept Mrs. Weinberg's offer of a shooting contest, Mr. McConnell declined to answer.
However, his wife, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, said, "I'll take her on."

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