Sunday, August 3, 2003

Fancy Farm a political stage

Candidates challenge each other in campaign kickoff

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FANCY FARM, Ky. - It was political theater, with rampant audience participation, Saturday at the 123rd Fancy Farm Picnic. The event's traditional role as the fall campaign kickoff was played to the hilt.

Gubernatorial rivals Ben Chandler and Ernie Fletcher laid into one another, as expected.

Yet they were nearly upstaged by some fantasy characters.

There were seven young Republicans dressed as seven "Chandler dwarfs."

An example: "Sleepy Chandler," deemed to have "slept on the job" through 12 years as state auditor and attorney general.

Not to be outdone, Democrats marched out the Job Terminator - a guy in a giant Fletcher head with wraparound sunglasses, a la Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On cue, the Job Terminator tossed pink slips while banners hoisted from the audience listed numbers of jobs, by county, supposedly lost during President Bush's 21/2 years in office.

"Too many Kentuckians just aren't working," thundered Chandler, who has made the national economy a premier issue.

Fletcher, the 6th District congressman, offered his own take on the economy.

He said Democrats, who have held the governorship since 1971, promote a "myth that Kentucky is poor and will always be poor, that somehow poverty is our destiny.

"It's a most absurd myth that says because of poverty they should be allowed to rule on and on and on and on after 32 years."

Some of the keenest slices came not from the gubernatorial candidates but from senators past and present - Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic former Sen. Wendell Ford.

The dwarfs, in fact, were foils for McConnell, the party's master strategist, who allowed that he had been racking his brain to think of a proper analogy for Chandler and the incumbent Democratic administration as a whole.

McConnell said he settled on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as in: "Mirror, mirror on the wall. Is this the worst administration of them all?"

One by one, the costumed characters paraded before the audience and received a McConnell introduction.

A sampling: "Doc Chandler" - "Our boy Ben can't keep from doctoring his record," McConnell said - and "Sneezy Chandler," who McConnell said "is allergic to the facts."

Ford gave as good as he got, proceeding to peel apart a favorite topic of Fletcher's supporters - Fletcher's eclectic resume as an engineer, Air Force fighter pilot, physician and Baptist lay minister.

Ford's version: "He's a pilot with no plane, a doctor with no patients, a preacher with no congregation and a candidate with no vision or plan."

Chandler, who got to speak before Fletcher by a coin toss, lashed Fletcher as "a Washington insider who time after time has shown he's forgotten about his old Kentucky home."

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