Republicans running for governor in 2023 took to the stage at Kentucky’s largest political event on Saturday, slamming Gov. Andy Beshear’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, while arguing for Democratic governors amid historic floods and to support recovery efforts led after the tornado.
When his challenger took aim at him, Beshear spent the day comforting families displaced by flash floods that swept through Appalachia more than a week ago, killing 37 people. Beshear visited two state parks where some suddenly homeless people took refuge.
“Today I was at our state park spending time with our eastern Kentucky families displaced by catastrophic flooding,” Beshear wrote on social media. “These Kentuckians are going through unimaginable things. My priority is to serve them.”
A deadly tornado ripped through parts of western Kentucky in December. The political speech at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic — the traditional start of the fall sports — took place about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Mayfield, which was hit directly by a tornado.
Living up to the event’s reputation for edgy attacks, Republicans looking to oust Beshear took aim at restrictions imposed by the governor on businesses and gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor said his actions saved lives during a dangerous time without a vaccine. The state’s Republican-led legislature has reined in the governor’s virus decision-making powers in a case settled by the state’s Supreme Court.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Quarles called Beshear a “shutdown governor.”
“He shut down our economy,” said Quarles, the state’s agriculture commissioner. “He closed our ‘mom and pop shop’. He killed countless jobs and kept the big box stores open.
“Guys, just because we’re going through a global pandemic doesn’t mean our rights, our liberties and liberties should be thrown out the window,” he added.
In his speech, Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Colmon Elridge defended Beshear, who has been strongly supported by Kentuckians in the polls. Elrich praised Beshear’s efforts to lead recovery efforts in tornado-ravaged western Kentucky and said he would do the same for flood victims in the state’s Appalachia region.
“Once again, our governor has shown through his actions how we can emerge and embrace our fellow Kentuckians in times of disaster, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Kentuckians,” Elrich said.
The promise that Beshear was already the state’s premier political campaign didn’t come up. The governor originally planned to visit Israel during a picnic at Fancy Farm. He canceled that trip after major flooding in eastern Kentucky.
The Fancy Farm stage is dominated by Republican officials — a reflection of GOP dominance in the election. The event was a ceremony for candidates across the state who were put to the test by stump-style speeches in the August heat, while facing jeers and shouting from opposing partisans.
Political attacks have cropped up from time to time, calling on the public to continue supporting people rebuilding from tornadoes and facing an equally daunting task in flood-ravaged areas.
“We might share some laughs today, but whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, know we’re with you,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Daniel Cameron. “When a natural disaster strikes, we take off our partisan hats and support each other. We help repair, we help rebuild.”
Cameron then turned to promoting his candidacy. He touted his support from former President Donald Trump and his work as the state’s attorney general in defending Kentucky’s anti-abortion laws and fighting the Biden administration’s policies in court.
“I’m the best candidate and the only candidate who can beat Andy Beshear next fall,” Cameron said.
Two other Republican gubernatorial candidates also pitched to crowds and TV viewers across the state — state auditor Mike Harmon and state Rep. Savannah Maddox.
Missing from Saturday’s political speech was Kentucky’s most powerful Republican, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell, who has been a picnic mainstay for decades, loved the spat but missed the event due to Senate duties. In a Senate speech Saturday, McConnell said the federal government’s role in the long-term recovery of flood-stricken areas will increase once reconstruction begins.
McConnell said: “Soon I will be visiting the area in person to meet with flood victims and listen to their concerns. Then I will bring back to Washington what I have heard from voters and make sure we are rebuilding the greater Be on their side at scale and be better than ever.”
Biden declared a federal disaster, directing relief funds to hard-hit Kentucky.