FANCY FARM, Ky. (AP) — Republicans running for governor in 2023 took the stage at Kentucky’s biggest political event on Saturday, criticizing Gov. Andy Beshear’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and offering support for recovery efforts that the Democratic governor is leading in the wake of historic flooding and tornadoes.
As his rivals heaped criticism on him, Beshear spent the day consoling families displaced by the flash floods that inundated the Appalachian region more than a week ago. killing 37. Beshear visited two state parks where some of the suddenly homeless have taken refuge.
“I am in our state parks today, spending time with our Eastern Kentucky families who have been displaced by catastrophic flooding,” Beshear posted on social media. ”These Kentuckians have been through the unimaginable. My priority is to be there for them.”
Last December, deadly tornadoes ripped through parts of western Kentucky. The political speech at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic, the traditional start of the fall campaign, took place about 10 miles from Mayfield, which was hit directly by a tornado.
Living up to the event’s reputation for cutting-edge attacks, Republicans who wanted to unseat Beshear took aim at restrictions the governor has placed on businesses and gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor has said his actions saved lives at a dangerous time when vaccines were not available. The GOP-led state legislature reined in the governor’s virus policymaking power in a case settled by the state Supreme Court.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Quarles referred to Beshear as the “closed governor.”
“It shut down our economy,” said Quarles, the state agriculture commissioner. “He closed our ‘mom and pop’ stores. He eliminated countless jobs and kept the big box stores open.
“Friends, the fact that we have lived through a global pandemic does not mean that our rights, our freedoms and freedoms should be thrown out the window,” he added.
In his speech, Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Colmon Elridge came to the defense of Beshear, who consistently receives strong approval ratings from Kentucky residents in the polls. Elridge praised Beshear’s efforts to lead recovery efforts in tornado-ravaged western Kentucky and said he will do the same for flood victims in the Appalachian region of the state.
“Once again, our governor shows through his actions how we stand up in times of devastation and embrace our fellow Kentucky residents, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Kentucky residents,” Elridge said.
Beshear no longer showed up for the state’s main political event. The governor initially planned a visit to Israel to coincide with the Fancy Farm picnic. He canceled that trip after massive flooding hit eastern Kentucky.
The Fancy Farm stage was dominated by Republican officials, reflecting the electoral dominance of the GOP. The event is a rite of passage for candidates from across the state, putting themselves to the test in stump-style speeches in the August heat while facing jeers and shouts from supporters of the other party.
The political attacks were marked by calls for continued public support for people rebuilding from the tornadoes and facing the same daunting task in flood-ravaged areas.
“We may be sharing a few laughs today, but whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, know we’re with you,” GOP gubernatorial hopeful Daniel Cameron said. ”When natural disasters strike, we take off our partisan hats and support each other. We help repair and we help rebuild.”
Cameron then went on to promote his candidacy. He touted his endorsement of former President Donald Trump and his work as state attorney general defending Kentucky’s anti-abortion laws and fighting Biden administration policies in court.
“I am the best candidate and the only candidate who can beat Andy Beshear next fall,” Cameron said.
Two other Republican gubernatorial candidates also made pitches to the crowd and a watching state television audience: State Auditor Mike Harmon and State Rep. Savannah Maddox.
Not present at Saturday’s policy speech was Kentucky’s most powerful Republican, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. A picnic mainstay for decades, McConnell enjoys verbal combat, but missed the event due to his Senate duties. In a Senate speech on Saturday, McConnell said the federal role in the long-running recovery of flood-damaged areas will grow once rebuilding begins.
“I will soon be visiting the region in person to meet with flood victims and listen to their concerns,” McConnell said. “Then I will take what I hear from my constituents to Washington and make sure I stand by their side as we build back bigger and better than before.”
Biden declared a federal disaster to direct aid money to the hardest-hit Kentucky counties.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION