FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Before television, Kentucky politicians had to travel to the annual Fancy Farm picnic to make sure their message got out to a large crowd.
These days, the crowd comes to Fancy Farm to get on television.
Organizers of the annual western Kentucky picnic say they want to tone down the state's signature political event, traditionally defined by hundreds of people who are bused in and coached to chant loud enough to drown out the opponents of their favored candidates.
"A lot of the sophistication and choreography of Fancy Farm has sort of gone hand in hand with the necessity to try and get that column inch or that two-and-a-half seconds on TV," said Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky. "People chant something because they want reporters to pick up on it."
Fancy Farm and its raucous crowd can be an unnerving scenario for politicians used to speaking at bean suppers and Lincoln dinners. In 1998, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Scotty Baesler's Fancy Farm speech was so emotional that Republicans used clips of it in TV ads against him. Baesler lost to Republican Sen. Jim Bunning. And in 2009, then-Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway apologized after using profanity during his Fancy Farm speech.
"That's the whole point. It's a rite of passage to go down there and not get flustered," Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Dan Logsdon said. "Just look straight ahead and give your speech. The second you look off into the crowd or you start paying attention to what someone is yelling at you, you're off your game and then people are even more vicious."